Energy efficiency also helps low-income customers

Guest Blog | March 18, 2010 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Utilities


State House Rep. Joe Gibbons – Photo: Tallahassee Democrat

Rep. Joe Gibbons has kindly allowed us to reprint his published essay.  He addresses the critical need that low-income utility customers have for expanded energy efficiency programs.  As demonstrated in a recent study by Florida Power & Light , low-income residents participate in energy efficiency programs at the same rate as other income groups.  It is simply a myth that energy savings are only for the well off.

Over the last several years, Floridians have seen double-digit percentage increases in utility bills.  Spiking fossil fuel costs are straining the financial resources of many families.  A dialogue with far-reaching impact is under way about goals for energy efficiency and renewable energy.  The Florida Public Service Commission – which regulates the state’s big power companies – plays a role in both.  Energy efficiency breaks this trend of rising rates.

A failure to achieve greater energy efficiency hurts all of Florida’s electricity customers, particularly low- and fixed-income customers, because it deprives them of the help they need to reduce their electricity bills.

Making efficiency programs available to low-income residents is especially valuable because those groups pay a greater share of their income on energy bills compared with more affluent residents. Efficiency saves twice – cutting utility bills and helping the homeowner or renter cut energy waste.

A well-managed energy efficiency program is the lowest cost resource available to Florida’s electric utilities, costing about two to four cents per kilowatt hour. By contrast, the average cost of generating more electricity is at least four times higher, at 12 cents per kilowatt hour.

It’s a simple choice. Would you rather pay 12 cents or 4 cents for energy?

Much can be done to help utility customers reduce their energy use and save money. Over the next decade in at least 16 states, energy use is expected to be reduced by 10 percent to 20 percent.

To its credit, the Public Service Commission took a step in the right direction recently by ordering the state’s power companies to offer more efficiency opportunities to their customers. Florida’s utilities should offer many of the most basic cost-effective measures to customers, such as compact fluorescent light bulbs, low-flow showerheads and water heater blankets. This would help the customers who don’t have information about such measures and sometimes cannot afford to install them without utility incentives.

In response to the Florida Legislature’s interest in renewable energy, the PSC added a new solar energy program for homeowners.. The state’s utilities are expected to present their ideas for how to advance clean and efficient solar energy in Florida, including solar water heaters and rooftop panels.

The total cost for the solar program is estimated to be 7 cents to 18 cents a month for the average customer, so these incentives will have only a tiny impact on bills. We need to design these incentive programs so that individual homeowners share in the cost of solar and the entire body of utility customers benefits without footing the whole bill.

I have introduced HB 77 that addresses this entire issue. The bill asks the Florida Energy and Climate Commission to prepare a report that identifies methods of increasing energy-efficiency among low-income households. The commission will, at a minimum, identify energy efficiency programs currently offered to low-income households by community action agencies, community-based organizations and utility companies in this state as well as similar programs offered to low-income households in other states.

What’s more, implementing energy efficiency creates jobs – especially critical in a state approaching 12-percent unemployment. Improving efficiency requires a work force of electricians, air conditioning installers, carpenters, roofers and more to deliver the services and products that reduce customer bills. Efficiency can add nearly 20,000 Florida jobs by achieving 15-percent energy savings by 2020, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Any way you look at it, efficiency should play a larger role in the lives of Floridians. The savings are especially critical to lower-income customers. While the PSC has taken a step in the right direction, more needs to be done to make efficiency opportunities even more widely available to customers.

Joseph A. “Joe” Gibbons, distinguished member of the Florida House of Representatives since 2006 (on its Energy & Utilities Policy Committee as Democratic Ranking Member) and businessman from Hallandale Beach, expressed support for energy efficiency in this message’s original posting in the Tallahassee Democrat, 4-Mar-10.  Original story link

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