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Colorado: Energy efficiency push could generate huge windfall and reduce the need for new power plants

Coal mining is so 19th century.

Study claims investments in energy efficiency show two-to-one return

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — While oil and gas companies push for development of new resources, yet another study makes it clear that conservation is an equally important factor in the energy equation.

An all-out energy efficiency effort could help Colorado utilities avoid spending nearly $7 billion constructing and operating power plants, and generate an economic windfall of $4.8 billion for the state, according to Howard Geller, director of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project.

Geller’s organization this week published a new report outlining a step-by-step approach to realizing those savings, showing that every dollar invested in energy efficiency programs returns more than two dollars in savings on business and household utility bills in the southwest. The report is available, along with state-by-state findings, at www.20BillionBonanza.com.

“Helping households and businesses save energy is the lowest cost, cleanest and least risky resource available to utilities today. All utilities should implement best practice efficiency programs,” Geller said.

These programs would educate Colorado utility customers, offer technical assistance, and provide financial incentives, potentially creating 7,000 new jobs by 2020 if all utilities serving the state fully implement such programs and measures.

The report finds that it is feasible to achieve a 22 percent reduction in electricity consumption by the year 2020 from energy efficiency programs implemented 2010-2020.

Reaching the target would save the equivalent of electricity used by 1.3 million typical households in Colorado and require an investment of $4.1 billion. The investment would be split between utilities and their customers and yield a resulting savings on energy purchases along with public health benefits of $8.9 billion—or a net savings of $4.8 billion for the state’s ratepayers, the study concluded.

“Beyond the financial return, there are other major benefits of saving energy,” said Geller. “One of the biggest is that utilities can retire older, dirtier power plants without compromising their ability to provide safe, dependable power to customers. Closing old plants improves public health by significantly reducing air pollution.”

Other benefits he cited if utilities implement best practice efficiency programs:

  • Avoid or close 7.5 large power plants in the region.
  • Reduce CO2 emissions from power plants equivalent to taking 1.1 million passenger vehicles off the road by 2020.
  • Save 2.5 billion gallons of water per year by 2020 through less power plant operation.

The report identifies the most effective utility energy efficiency programs across the country and analyzes the costs and benefits of implementing these programs in the southwestern states of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

“Policy reform is critical to realizing the $4.8 billion bonanza for Colorado,” Geller said.

The report notes that utilities serving Colorado have made considerable progress in helping their customers save electricity. But it also urges further action — from adopting more robust energy savings goals or requirements to rewarding utilities for meeting or exceeding energy efficiency goals.

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