FirstEnergy: Inefficient Efficiency in Ohio?

Utilities around the country are increasing their investment in energy efficiency. Because energy efficiency costs less than half as much as the next cheapest source of supply, consumers and the environment both benefit when cost effective energy efficiency investments are made. In Ohio, utilities are ramping up energy efficiency programs to comply with Senate Bill 221, passed in 2008, which requires utilities to meet an increasing percentage of their load with energy efficiency investments.

But there is a right way and a wrong way for utilities to ramp up investments in energy efficiency.

FirstEnergy's plan to distribute compact fluorescent light bulbs to its customers (detailed in John Funk's Cleveland Plain Dealer article, "FirstEnergy to give away 3.75 million low energy light bulbs") is a wasteful way to comply with Ohio's good energy efficiency law. Installing CFLs dramatically cuts electricity bills - the bulbs pay for themselves in energy savings in 6 months - but FirstEnergy's program costs more than necessary.

NRDC and the Office of the Ohio Consumers Counsel urged FirstEnergy to provide coupons or discounts rather than give away bulbs. A customer who actually makes a purchasing decision about a bulb has "skin in the game," and is more likely to install the light bulb, understand its benefits, and buy one again in the future. American Electric Power and Duke Energy are already using discount or coupon programs to the great benefit of their customers in Ohio.

FirstEnergy is currently working with stakeholders to design programs for 2010 and 2011. We hope the company uses this opportunity to implement best practice energy efficiency programs: it's clear the public won't accept anything less.