Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: For Better Energy Efficiency, Not Just a Carrot, but a Stick

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: For Better Energy Efficiency, Not Just a Carrot, but a Stick

Article excerpt

When it comes to energy conservation, Missouri lags the nation. The state's efficiency policies ranked 44th during 2014.

Now, that ranking is likely to get even worse.

A 3-year-old energy efficiency program at Ameren Missouri may lapse at the end of 2015 unless state regulators can break an impasse over how to extend it. All sides should be working overtime to resolve this. The basic law of electric rates is the cheapest, and greenest, kilowatt is the one you don't use.

Under the program, Ameren has subsidized energy efficiency in many ways. It helped pay for fluorescent light bulbs, provided rebates to customers who buy efficient air conditioners and water heaters, and helped pay for more extensive retrofitting at businesses. These steps have helped consumers shave their electric bills. They have reduced greenhouse gas emissions and lessened the need for new power plants.

With the federal Clean Power Plan requiring states to come up with plans to curb carbon pollution by next year, energy conservation is the low-hanging fruit. Now is the time for Missouri to ramp up its efficiency programs not shut them down.

The trick is for Ameren not to overcharge its customers for the energy savings the program produces. That is the Missouri Public Service Commission's main demand, and it's a reasonable one. Just because the program is voluntary on the utility's part doesn't mean Ameren gets "a blank check," as the PSC put it in an order last week.

The program grew out of the Missouri Energy Efficiency Investment Act of 2009. The law recognizes that helping customers use less energy lowers an electric utility's revenue. To counter that disincentive for conservation, the law lets a company recoup the costs of subsidizing efficient products. "Recoup" doesn't mean "profit from," but utilities can boost their earnings if they meet savings targets.

The program is optional for utilities. In other words, the act provided a carrot but no stick.

To its credit, Ameren stepped up in 2012, winning PSC approval to levy a separate charge on customer bills to cover sales lost because of efficiencies. The charge currently averages about $6 per month for households. …

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