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The industry is struggling to reconcile legacy business models with emerging green priorities.
These are hard times for those trying to design, much less implement, energy efficiency programs. Meanwhile, avoided energy costs, the benchmark for valuation of energy efficiency, are declining.
These twin forces (transforming markets and low avoided costs) leave program administrators hamstrung to meet their saving targets.
From an economic perspective, energy efficiency policy decisions are fundamentally about the level of ratepayer funds that should be invested in energy efficiency – in other words, what a “negawatt” is worth. These questions have been the subject of a three-decades-long debate among energy policy analysts, who have landed in two camps.
At the center of this debate is the question of what yardstick to use to value a unit of saved energy. New energy building codes and equipment standards have shrunk the technical potential for conservation. Blame that largely on unforeseen natural gas prices – as low as $2 per million Btu – caused by a drop in aggregate demand, along with recent discoveries of conventional natural gas reserves and new extraction techniques that have opened vast supplies of unconventional gas. It’s determined by physical factors such as features of energy-efficient technologies, saturation of fuels and end-uses, and prevailing energy codes and standards.
This is generally decided systematically through a formal integrated resource planning (IRP) process or through mandated energy efficiency resource standards (EERS).
In one are those who argue that the criteria that regulators use to determine cost effectiveness tend to overvalue energy efficiency and lead to over-investing.
This lowered benchmark has raised the cost-effectiveness threshold for energy efficiency measures, causing many marginal measures to fail economic tests, thus lowering the overall economic potential of energy efficiency.
As a result, a new debate has been touched off about reforming – or replacing – the total resource cost (TRC) test, the main standard for economic valuation of ratepayer-funded energy efficiency in most jurisdictions.
In the other are those who believe the decision rules lead to undervaluation and sub-optimal investment levels. We’ll announce our Grand Opening shortly, but in the meantime we hope you’ll excuse our mess, while we bring Public Utilities Fortnightly magazine to an all-new online platform.
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