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CPS' energy efficiency program is saving power usage and money

April 27, 2010

By Tracy Idell Hamilton
San Antonio Express-News

CPS Energy saved three times as many megawatts under its energy efficiency and conservation program than its targeted goal, and did it for slightly less money than planned, its board of trustees learned Monday.

The utility's ambitious, $849 million Save for Tomorrow Energy plan, known as STEP, had budgeted $22.7 million to save 30 megawatts in 2009. Instead, it spent $20.4 million to save 102 megawatts, according to Nexant, the consulting firm hired to independently verify the energy savings.

STEP's goal is to save 771 megawatts of power by 2020, about the equivalent of a large power plant. Not having to build that plant could save customers $2 billion, CPS says.

To save those megawatts, the utility is offering incentives and rebates to encourage residents and commercial customers to improve heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems; increase the use of compact florescent light bulbs and programmable thermostats; expand lighting retrofits; purchase energy-efficient appliances and more.

The money comes from a surcharge added to utility bills, which started at an extra 3 cents a month on the average customer's bill in 2009. That will increase to $1.38 a month by 2012.

About 13,000 CPS customers took advantage of the program this year, said Bruce Evans, who oversees STEP. He acknowledged that it was a small percentage of total customers, but the number is growing.

He thanked them for making the investments they did.

"Nothing happens if they don't do something," he said. "Our customers are starting to understand what energy efficiency will do for them."

This is the second straight year STEP has exceeded its goals. The year before, CPS spent $11.5 million and achieved a 40 megawatt savings, more than twice its goal of 17 megawatts.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs made up the bulk of the energy savings last year. According to Nexant, 1.8 million of the bulbs have been purchased with rebate coupons and more than 10,000 were given away, resulting in 61 percent of the total energy saved. Commercial lighting saved the next highest percentage of energy, about one-fifth of the total.

Those savings will become more expensive over time, the utility has acknowledged.

"We're going to have to keep raising the bar, and get some of those customers back, to do the next level," said acting CPS General Manager Jelynne LeBlanc-Burley.Nexant's report will go next to San Antonio's Office of Environmental Policy, which will review it and send it on to the City Council for approval, likely in mid-May. Only then will CPS be reimbursed the money it has spent.

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