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Save-a-watt rival clears hurdle

A rival to Duke Energy Corp.'s controversial save-a-watt energy efficiency proposal was given a green light today by N.C. regulators.

NC SAVE$, a proposal to create an independent nonprofit that would run a mass of energy efficiency programs, was given its own docket with the N.C. Utilities Commission. That means it eventually could be approved and might have a public hearing with back-and-forth testimony in Raleigh.

Programs offered might include home weatherization and rebates for consumers to buy energy-efficient appliances. The programs are designed to cut electricity demand to save consumers money and also reduce the need for new power plants, some of which emit carbon dioxide, blamed as a cause of global warming.

Duke's save-a-watt has been controversial because it would allow the Charlotte-based utility to turn a profit from helping customers save energy through a slate of its own efficiency programs. Duke chief executive Jim Rogers said utilities need a profit motive to promote programs designed to sell less electricity, a utility's main product. Rogers says Duke has the expertise and is best suited to run successful energy efficiency programs.

The utility would charge ratepayers a fee based on how much energy it successfully saves each year, which would have to be verified by a third party.

A group of nonprofits oppose save-a-watt, saying the plan would cost customers too much and save too little power.

The group points out that the commission has created stand-alone nonprofits to address unmet needs, such as promoting green energy. The nonprofits are usually paid for by ratepayers through a fee on their power bills.

The commission will take initial written comments on the NC SAVE$ proposal until Sept. 5.

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