Energy Efficiency — WV’s Untapped Energy Source

This post originally appeared 1/7 on the West Virginia Highlands Voice, the blog of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

Energy Efficiency can reduce electric power demand by 20-30 percent

By Mike Harman

Dave Grubb, the founder of WV Citizens Action Group, met Mike Harman, who lives in St. Albans, at the state capitol the start of the 1975 legislative session. They realized they were interested in many of the same issues, namely health care, nursing homes, prescription drug prices, and utility bills.

While Grubb had a mature research and advocacy background as one of “Nader’s Raiders,” Harman was the coordinator of a small army of retired activists, members of the Council of Senior West Virginians. They got together and educated a diverse network of local senior citizens, AARP chapters, union retiree groups, and younger folks, who became a formidable lobbying and advocacy force. Jon Blair Hunter and Perry Bryant were just two of the many younger people who became involved with the Coalition on Legislation for the Elderly, the lobbying arm of Council of Senior West Virginians (CSWV).

In the late 1970s, WV Citizens Action Group (WVCAG) and CSWV became the WV organizers for the Citizens/Labor Energy Coalition and the Coalition of American Electric Consumers, which together intervened in West Virginia utility cases to fight expensive, unnecessary new power plants, and worked to protect consumers against having their heat disconnected in the winter due to nonpayment of bills. They helped lobby to change the way electric power was taxed, which brought in tens of millions of dollars in new revenue from out-of-state wholesale purchasers (other utilities).

In January, 2009, Mike discovered a new report issued by the Appalachian Regional Commission, “Energy Efficiency in Appalachia: How Much, at What Cost, and How Long Will It Take?” Soon after, Appalachian Power and Wheeling Electric announced a request for a 43 percent increase in rates, the largest such request in the state’s history.

Mike contacted Billy Jack Gregg, the former Public Service Commission consumer advocate, to ask if energy efficiency programming might be appropriate in this rate case. Billy Jack said “Absolutely!” and so Mike contacted Gary Zuckett at CAG, who was more than willing to participate. Together they recruited legal representation from Tom Rodd, who was working for the Calwell Law Practice in Charleston.

Armed with the requisite organizational and legal standing to intervene, CAG secured a grant from the Energy Foundation and was able to develop expert testimony sufficient to persuade the Public Service Commission to order Apco and Wheeling Electric to produce an energy efficiency plan to help their customers save energy and save money. This applies to business and industrial customers, as well as residents.

This is a modest start, but a significant step that needs to be sustained and expanded.

CAG then proceeded to intervened in an Allegheny Power case (including Monongahela Power and Potomac Edison) and won a similar order from the PSC in 2010. They further intervened in the recent Allegheny/FirstEnergy merger case which is currently under review by the PSC.

Based on the Appalachian Regional Commission report, and other indicators, West Virginia has major potential to save energy at a cost-effective rate of only one to three cents per kilowatt hour, compared to a cost of future generation capacity at over ten cents.

Lighting is still the “low-hanging fruit,” meaning that residents and businesses can more easily and quickly save energy through lighting upgrades than from any other measure. West Virginia has a higher than average proportion of industrial customers than most other states, and residential and business building stock is generally older and less efficient than that of other states.

While the WV PSC has shown a good level of interest in energy efficiency and demand-side management (EE/DSM), it is usually necessary to have strong enabling legislation that requires specific energy savings targets over time. West Virginia does not yet have such laws.

A great deal of progress can be made in addition to working on state policies at the legislature and the PSC. Energy efficiency can be accomplished at the local, state, and even personal level, with the right information and incentives. Several programs in West Virginia are getting good results, and we intend to support them and publicize them, as well as stimulate new efforts. This is the mission of Energy Efficient West Virginia (EEWV):

The mission of Energy Efficient West Virginia (EEWV) is to promote energy efficiency among all residential, business and industrial energy consumers. This will be carried out by engaging in public education; public policy & standards reviews; assessment of potential energy savings; advocating policy change, public utility regulation, and building codes; promoting specific programs in the public and private sectors; and carrying out other activities deemed necessary to promote the saving of energy and money by the public.

Kristin Tracz

About Kristin Tracz

Kristin Tracz served MACED’s Research and Policy team from 2009-2012 working on clean energy policy, energy efficiency programs and the Appalachian Transition Initiative. She joined MACED after finishing her Master of Environmental Management degree at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. She now lives and works in Washington, DC.