Unprecedented California Collaboration Paves the Way to Greater Energy Efficiency

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Twenty diverse stakeholders - including consumer and social justice advocates, utilities, local governments, environmental groups, and implementers to name a few – have formed an unprecedented coalition to recommend what the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) should focus on to ensure the state captures even more energy savings over the coming years.

We all know about California’s strong efficiency history, but there is always more we can do -- and that’s the subject of  this week’s unparalleled “Joint Parties” letter to Commissioner Mark Ferron, lead commissioner on efficiency at the CPUC.

Now, you might think this isn’t a big deal, but many of these stakeholders are often at opposite ends of the table and wouldn’t have dreamed of signing on to the same letter even one year ago. However, Commissioner Ferron made 2013 and 2014 a time for the commission and stakeholders to figure out how best to take efficiency to the next level, building on California’s success of saving residents and businesses more than $65 billion and making household electric bills 25 percent lower than the national average over the past several decades. Meanwhile, stakeholders realized that the contentious manner in which we were “discussing” issues – namely over dozens of pages of formal comments submitted to the Commission – just wasn’t working or helping anyone’s cause.

What’s in the letter?

In the Joint Parties’ letter, we recommend that the Commission focus its resources on priority issues, like what high-level direction should the efficiency programs take and how could the Commission increase transparency in decision-making while also fostering increased collaboration. Focusing on these issue areas could help reduce the workload for the overloaded and hardworking CPUC staff, lessen contention among the ever-growing number of stakeholders, and enable more resources to be allocated to ensure strong program implementation and improved outcomes – something that everybody wants.

The Joint Parties recommend the Commission focus on the following four priorities to advance energy efficiency:

  • Provide consistency in the market and an opportunity for continuous program improvement by setting up a system that allows for implementing programs and initiatives over a longer time period with staggered deadlines (instead of trying to modify all of the hundreds of programs at one time);  
  • Maximize cost-effective efficiency and expand opportunities to capture efficiency by, for example, ensuring efficiency is properly valued, improving the quality of the installation and maintenance of efficiency improvements, and providing regular program opportunities for a broad range of energy efficiency providers;
  • Rely on energy efficiency in meeting our energy needs by improving confidence in energy-saving estimates and targeting constrained areas with efficiency programs to help relieve local demand; and
  • Improve upon the existing evaluation process by prioritizing evaluations that best support CPUC long-term goals and improve the timeliness and transparency of results.

The commission will now consider whether to include these priorities – which we hope it will - when it opens a proceeding in the fall centered on how best to build on the strengths of the current programs and processes and where to make improvements when needed.

How did we get 20 stakeholders to sign on?

Everyone can agree that building consensus takes effort. It takes a leap of faith to believe we can shift the way in which we interact and begins at the high level to rally around a common set of priorities. It also requires talking to one another (something that easily gets lost when trying to keep up with meetings and comment deadlines) and knowing when to let go. NRDC worked very closely with The Utility Reform Network (TURN) over many months to build collaboration among California’s efficiency stakeholders and to find common ground on key priorities to advance efficiency.

And it’s only the beginning…

While this feels like an incredible feat (and it is!), it’s only the beginning. Now is the time to figure out how to work with the Commission to implement these recommendations – hopefully continuing to build upon the work done to develop this letter. While stakeholders won’t always agree, we need to keep working toward consensus to enable a strong transition to a system that allows for wide scale-up of efficiency to save customers money, continue to support a strong efficiency industry that creates even more jobs, and reach our state’s climate goals of reducing pollution and giving first priority to efficiency as our cleanest and cheapest energy resource. The work around this letter has paved a great start to making ongoing collaboration in California a reality.

The Joint Parties are: NRDC, TURN, BKi, Brightline Defense Project, Build it Green, Building Performance Institute, California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust, The California Energy Efficiency Industry Council, Ecology Action, Efficiency First California, Environmental Health Coalition, Global Green USA, Greenlining Institute, Local Government Sustainable Energy Coalition, National Association of Energy Services Companies, OPOWER, Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, Southern California Gas Company.