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EWEB reviews efficiency, peak-demand strategies.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Roger Gray

You've switched all your incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescents or even LEDs. You've replaced your home's original electric ceiling heat with an energy-efficient ductless heat pump. You've added insulation, installed double-pane vinyl windows, turned down your water heater, programmed your thermostat and banished phantom power from electronics on standby.

Now what?

The Eugene Water & Electric Board is asking itself the same question.

The utility stands at a crossroads. We're celebrating a 30-year history of leadership and success in energy efficiency. At the same time, we're living with today's reality of stagnant load growth coupled with an unfavorable wholesale energy market on one side and peak demand on the other.

Most of us turn on the hot water or the oven around the same times on most days, and turn up the heat during the same months of the year - creating peak demand on our power grid and prompting costly wholesale power purchases. During the off-peak hours and months we have more energy than we need, and we are forced to sell surplus power at a loss.

EWEB is committed to helping our customer-owners consume energy wisely and save money on their bills. In 2012 alone, we helped our customers save more than 23 million kilowatt-hours of energy - enough to power approximately 1,150 homes for an entire year.

We have been a national leader in energy efficiency, but now it's time to find a new balance between market realities and customer needs. Utilities, whether they provide electricity or water, have large fixed costs that don't change based on sales volume. If we don't match our energy efficiency programs to actual need, then we can end up spreading fixed costs over fewer sales, which will increase rates.

We believe the best path forward is one where we build on our energy efficiency programs but add programs that help us meet our peak needs too. This concept is called peak "demand response."

To clear the way for these new peak-demand response programs, we'll need to pause and reassess our business model in regard to the current energy-efficiency programs and incentives we offer. We believe that energy efficiency combined with peak-demand response will save our customers money, help us better utilize renewable resources like wind and solar power, and help us avoid building any new power plants for many years to come.

With current approved business and residential customer applications, along with work in progress, EWEB has already reached its 2013 energy conservation target of 16.2 million kilowatt-hours of energy. Therefore, the associated financial incentives (rebates and loans) to help customers make energy-efficiency improvements in their homes and businesses are also fully subscribed for this year.

This situation is far from ideal. Our customers value EWEB's leadership and support for energy efficiency. EWEB will not abandon its conservation legacy. We still have the capacity, need and desire to be a visionary utility. Some customers - especially small business owners and residential customers with limited incomes - still need financial assistance to invest in efficiency improvements that will help them lower their monthly electric bills.

EWEB commissioners, for example, recently approved a five-year intergovernmental agreement with the Housing and Community Services Agency of Lane County to provide whole-house retrofit services for eligible limited-income households in EWEB territory.

So here's what we're planning to do.

Over the next several months, we will reassess our conservation strategies and develop a plan to meet both energy- efficiency goals and peak-demand response goals. By the end of the summer, we'll provide an update on the development of new programs and incentive structures that better fit customer needs and market realities for 2013 forward.

In the meantime, our dedicated energy management staff will continue to assist customers in the following ways:

Conduct reviews or on-site energy audits of homes and businesses.

Provide recommendations for energy-efficiency improvements that will improve comfort and reduce monthly electric bills.

Refer customers to local licensed contractors qualified to do energy-efficiency projects.

Provide information on tax credits for which customers may be qualified.

The bottom line is that EWEB needs to reinvent how it does some things. We'll be shifting gears to help customers shift their energy use to off-peak times as well as continue energy efficiency. We will work hard and think creatively to determine an appropriate level of incentives to help enlist our customers' help so we can manage our overall operations and control costs and rates for the benefit of all EWEB customers.

This approach will require even greater collaboration with our customers than we've done in the past. We welcome your partnership. Stay tuned for updates as these new programs develop.

Roger Gray is general manager of the Eugene Water & Electric Board.
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Title Annotation:Guest Viewpoint
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 2, 2013
Words:787
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