A Step Forward for Energy Conservation in WA
OLYMPIA, Wash. - It can be tough for a utility company to champion energy efficiency when it makes less money as people use less energy. A decision on Wednesday by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission allows Puget Sound Energy (PSE) to work around that - and step up its energy-efficiency programs.
PSE now can "decouple" or separate its profits from its sales. Earthjustice attorney Amanda Goodin said it means PSE can promote saving energy while covering its costs for the electricity it still needs to produce.
"They're going to recover some money no matter what," she said, "but without the energy efficiency, they would need to go out and acquire new resources - building a new power plant, or buying new energy from the market. But overall, when everyone uses less energy, the whole pool of costs that they're recovering is smaller - and that's good for everyone."
About two dozen other states already allow utilities to decouple their sales and profits. Goodin said the decision paves the way for other Northwest utilities to promote conservation without pushback from their shareholders.
The decoupling decision was part of larger negotiations between Puget Sound Energy, the Northwest Energy Coalition and the Natural Resources Defense Council, Goodin said. They also agreed that PSE would spend more money helping low-income customers with weatherization and paying power bills.
"A number of groups all came together and agreed on this comprehensive proposal and brought it to the commission, and said, 'Hey, we've got this plan and we're all on board.' So, we think that was a really important factor in the commission deciding we're going to go this route in a big way," Goodin said.
In a separate decision, the commission allowed PSE to buy some power from the TransAlta coal plant in Centralia as the plant continues its multi-year shutdown. The commission also approved rate increases for PSE customers through 2015.
More information is online at utc.wa.gov.