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First Energy seeks OK on efficiency plans in WV

First Energy’s subsidiaries in West Virginia want the Public Service Commission to approve a plan to finance energy efficiency programs that could benefit its roughly 523,000 customers in the state.

Last month, MonPower and Potomac Edison filed a case with the PSC, the state agency that regulates utilities, recommending the commission approve the spending of $9.9 million between January 2017 and May 2018 on home energy audits, efficient commercial lighting and other electricity-saving measures.

While the plan is an improvement from the utilities’ previous efforts to help homeowners and businesses cut down on electric bills that have continued to climb statewide, the companies’ plans still fall woefully behind much of the country when it comes to energy savings in residential and commercial markets.

Between February 2012 and the end of 2016, records from the PSC show that the First Energy companies are expected to reach a goal of reducing electricity usage by 0.5 percent of total retail sales, based on 2009 levels.

By comparison, many utility-operated energy efficiency programs in other parts of the country have helped their collective customer base reduce their electricity usage — and, in turn, their monthly bills — by 3 percent or more every year, according to data collected by the American Council for Energy Efficiency Economy.

Under their new plan, MonPower and Potomac Edison are expected to increase their long-term energy savings to 1 percent of retail sales by 2018.

Still, that 1 percent reduction equals only 59,616 megawatt hours, a minuscule amount of energy savings when compared to the total achieved by efficiency programs nationwide.

In 2014, more than 25.7 million megawatt-hours of electricity were saved as a result of efficiency measures across the country, according to the ACEEE report, and even more is expected to be achieved in the coming years. That means First Energy’s future expected energy savings in West Virginia equals less than 0.2 percent of the U.S. total.

West Virginia has some of the most inefficient houses and businesses in the country, according data from the Energy Information Administration. The state’s inability to keep pace in efficiency upgrades is largely driven by the fact that West Virginia doesn’t have a law that requires utilities to continually achieve higher efficiency standards.

First Energy’s latest proposal, for instance, is the result of requirements from a PSC settlement that allowed MonPower to purchase the Harrison coal-fired power plant near Clarksburg from its parent company in 2013.

In past energy efficiency cases, First Energy has resisted suggestions that the company spend more on efficiency programs and expand the types of programs it offers. They argued that customers have to be willing to adopt energy-efficient measures and need the money to pay for part of those efforts.

However, during the West Virginia Legislature’s 2015 session, First Energy’s lobbyists helped kill a bill — SB 370 — that would have allowed interested homeowners to finance energy efficiency in other ways, namely by working with local governments to pay off improvements through a tax lien on the house that received the energy upgrades.

“We strongly believe that these and any future energy-efficiency programs are best managed by the utilities as overseen by the Public Service Commission of West Virginia, which balances the needs of customers and utilities,” Todd Meyer, a spokesman for MonPower and Potomac Edison, said at that time.

While the company has spent roughly $8.7 million on efficiency measures since 2012 and is expected to spend another $9.9 million over the next three years, studies have suggested that efficiency programs can be the cheapest way to ensure that future energy supply meets customer demand.

First Energy’s application estimates that the programs will cause a rate increase of 0.2 percent on average in 2017, a small amount when compared to other rate increases that have been approved by the PSC, for tree-trimming efforts and power plant purchases.

The documents also show that the cost of the efficiency programs will be discounted by First Energy selling those efficiency credits in the regional market, although First Energy will be keeping 20 percent of those profits.

Reach Andrew Brown at andrew.brown@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @Andy_Ed_Brown on Twitter.

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