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Group: Energy-efficiency incentives can save billions for Az

Arizona households and businesses can cut electricity use by 21 percent and save $7.3 billion by 2020 if utilities ramp up energy-efficiency incentives, a public policy group said Tuesday.

A report presented to Arizona energy officials by the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) said the state’s utilities already have programs that can be expanded to achieve the forecast savings.

“We’re suggesting by expanding those programs, investing more in energy efficiency and bringing in more participants, the net economic benefits from expanding programs out to 2020, would be over $7 billion,” said Howard Geller, author of the report and SWEEP’s executive director and founder.

The report found that every dollar invested in energy efficiency returns more than $2 in savings on business and household utility bills.

“Let me use the refrigerator as an example,” Geller said. “Utilities would provide a rebate, say $50, and educate customers to buy Energy Star refrigerators when they need a new one, because Energy Star refrigerators are more efficient than a typical refrigerator.”

Geller said the household that does that will see its energy consumption and utility bills go down.

The 270-page report calls for $5.5 billion in investments in efficiency programs by Arizona utilities, money that Geller said the companies would have to spend anyway on things like new power plants to keep up with demand.

James Wontor, manager of demand-side management programs for APS, said the utility sees the value in providing options for customers to save on electric bills.

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“We’re proud to say that of these 18 best practice programs (in the report), we offer virtually all of them to our customers right now today,” Wontor said.

Arizona Corporation Commissioner Sandra Kennedy said the state has made great strides when it comes to energy efficiency but that there is always room for improvement.

“I think the utility companies should ramp up their funding beginning next year,” said Kennedy, a Democrat who lost a bid for re-election this month. “And put a little more effort into energy efficiency because the programs actually work.”

Geller’s study said the energy saved would allow Arizona to avoid building or close 10 large power plants, which would result in 4.1 billion gallons of water saved per year and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants equivalent to taking 1.9 million passenger vehicles off the road, all by 2020.

“It’s both an economic and an environmental win for Arizona,” he said.

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Corbin Carson/Cronkite News Service

Howard Geller, executive director of the public policy group Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP), authored a report saying that ramping up energy-efficiency programs would cut Arizona’s electricity use by 21 percent and save households and businesses billions by 2020.