Duke to defend Save-a-Watt plan

After months of arguments on paper, Duke Energy this week will publicly defend its controversial energy efficiency proposal, called Save-a-Watt, as critics urge state regulators to reject it.

The Charlotte-based utility says that Save-a-Watt would be unlike any other efficiency program in the nation, by generously rewarding the utility for cutting energy demand in the state. Duke, the state's biggest electric utility with 1.8 million customers, touts Save-a-Watt as a national model that could be adopted by other power companies.

“The beauty of the Save-a-Watt program is that we have every incentive to drive as much energy efficiency as we can,” said Keith Trent, Duke Energy's chief strategy officer. “We take on all risk here. If we don't produce energy savings, we don't recover our investment.”

Trent says in 2009, the program's first year, Save-a-Watt would cost the typical residential customer just $1 a month. All residential customers will be charged for the program.

Customers who elect to participate in Save-a-Watt could save about $5 a month in electricity costs, Trent said.

Church groups, consumer advocates and environmental organizations contend that the primary beneficiary of Save-a-Watt will be Duke Energy. They say the program would overcharge the public and deliver minimal energy savings.

The electric utility will make its case before the N.C. Utilities Commission, the state regulatory body that will decide if Duke can offer the program in this state and charge customers extra to operate it.