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GUEST COLUMN: The least costly, most efficient solution for the Springs

By: HOWARD GELLER, KURT ECKERT and JERRY UNRUH
September 4, 2012
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Colorado Springs Utilities operates a variety of energy efficiency programs for its customers including free energy audits and providing rebates to households and businesses that purchase energy-efficient lights, appliances and other devices. However, these programs are not as comprehensive or well-funded as utility energy efficiency programs implemented by Xcel Energy in the metro Denver area or by Black Hills Energy in Pueblo and should be expanded.

The energy efficiency programs of Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy have been very effective: energy savings are more than 800 million kilowatt-hours per year as of 2011, equivalent to the electricity use of 100,000 typical households. Households and businesses served by these utilities are expected to save $640 million as a result of programs implemented during 2009-2011. Furthermore, the energy savings from Xcel’s programs are enabling the utility, at least in part, to retire older, dirty power plants—thereby reducing air pollution, improving public health and cutting pollution control costs.

Expanding the energy efficiency programs run by Utilities would greatly benefit citizens and businesses in Colorado Springs. Doing so would help more households and businesses reduce their utility bills, would help postpone investment in new costly power plants, and would facilitate shutting down older, dirtier power plants such as the Martin Drake plant.

Given the experience elsewhere in the state, Utilities should ramp up the budget for its energy efficiency programs to at least $10 million per year, on par with what Black Hills, Xcel Energy and the Fort Collins municipal utility are spending per customer. With more funding, Utilities could provide higher rebates that stimulate greater customer demand, expand the variety of services offered to its customers, increase technical assistance, and conduct additional outreach and marketing. 

With more comprehensive, better-funded efficiency programs, Utilities’ customers in aggregate could realize electricity savings of 10-15 percent by 2020. Peak electric demand — which drives the construction of new power plants — would also decline, with savings reaching as much as 150 megawatts (MW) by 2020.

Large energy savings mean large economic benefits for households and businesses in Colorado Springs. If these energy savings targets are reached, the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project estimates that customers served by Utilities would save $400-500 million over the lifetime of energy efficiency measures installed during 2012-2020. This estimate is net savings — the reduction in utility bills minus the cost of the energy efficiency measures and programs.

Not only is energy efficiency a very cost-effective utility power source, it is also the least risky resource according to a new report issued by CERES, a national coalition of investors and environmental groups that advises companies on sustainability issues. And with stronger, more effective energy efficiency programs, the air in Colorado Springs would be cleaner and healthier as a result of fewer emissions from fossil fuel-based power plants.

By implementing strong energy efficiency programs, utilities will save significant amounts of water from reduced operation of power plant cooling systems and greater adoption of energy and water-saving devices by households and businesses. These devices include resource-efficient clothes washers, dishwashers and low-flow showerheads. Water savings in Colorado Springs could exceed 2 billion gallons during 2012-2020.

Last but not least, hundreds of additional jobs will be created and supported in Colorado Springs by implementing strong, well-funded utility energy efficiency programs. Jobs will be created in sales and installation of energy efficiency measures. Also, households and businesses will increase their spending on labor-intensive goods and services in the local economy.

Saving electricity is the lowest cost, cleanest and least risky resource available to utilities. Increasing energy efficiency provides important co-benefits including local job creation, water savings, and reduced air pollution. Given these wide-ranging benefits, Colorado Springs Utilities should make energy efficiency its preferred resource — as Xcel Energy and other utilities in Colorado have done.      


Howard Geller is the executive director of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP). Kurt Eckert is president of Eckert Engineering, an energy consulting firm in Colorado Springs. Jerry Unruh lives in Manitou Springs. All three were members of Utilities’ Technical Advisory Group until the group was disbanded.

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