FirstEnergy Corp.’s compact fluorescent light bulb program is back, but this time it’s up to consumers to call the company to receive them. FirstEnergy is also preparing to give direct subsidies to retail stores in the region that sell CFL bulbs, expand cash rebates to consumers who turn in old appliances and offer incentives to small business to upgrade to more efficient lighting like the T5 Retrofit Kit.
Efficient lighting and rebates are all part of the company’s new three-year comprehensive energy efficiency program approved Wednesday by state regulators.
The Public Utility Commission of Ohio’s 45-page order — after eight months of haggling with environmentalists who wanted more programs — could not have come at a more awkward time for the Akron-based power company.
FirstEnergy’s fresh embrace of efficiency and conservation comes precisely at a time when it is aggressively trying to kill or cripple the 2008 state law that has required utilities help customers use less power.
The PUCO did include one issue that the Sierra Club wanted — the requirement that FirstEnergy offer or bid all of the energy saved by the programs into a May auction conducted by the regional power grid manager, PJM Interconnection.
The PJM “capacity auction” sets the price of reserve power used during peak times, such as on hot summer days. The auction accepts power saved, or negawatts, as counting toward balancing supply and demand — just as it would accept a new power plant.
Dan Sawmiller of the Sierrra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign said his organization figured that FirstEnergy should have bid about 322 negawatts last year, enough to save customers millions of dollars in lower peak rates, but instead offered only about 30 negawatts.
FirstEnergy’s reaction after the PUCO’s ruling was close to the chest. The company can appeal. To that, Jack Shaner of the Ohio Environmental Council responded, “FirstEnergy does its best to pull as much money out of customers as possible. But even they can’t avoid saving customers money with energy efficiency. Ohio law requires these programs must save more money than they cost, and the PUCO has determined that FirstEnergy’s efforts to save power will save customers millions. That’s the bottom line that matters most.”
Another group, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, struck the same theme. “The plans will reduce energy consumption and save residential and commercial customers money.”
FirstEnergy has argued since last fall that the efficiency requirements have interfered with normal market growth, are costing customers in the form of higher rates and may have hurt manufacturers still trying to recover from the recession. After a back-door effort to amend the law last December failed, the company said it would lobby openly on the issue.