ComEd's Energy Efficiency Programs Are Oversubscribed, Showing Huge Popularity and an Overwhelming Demand

Have you ever tried to get a dinner reservation at a popular restaurant and been told, "Sorry, we are booked and no longer accepting dinner reservations...until next year"?

Well, that's pretty much what just happened to ComEd customers hoping to access the utility's wildly popular and successful "Smart Ideas" energy efficiency programs. Programs that provide customers free energy audits or light bulbs, rebates and incentives for new appliances and better/smarter heating, ventilation and cooling systems, just to name a few examples.

Customers were recently told by ComEd, sorry, but we are currently oversubscribed for the year (Program Year 8 which runs June 2015-May 31, 2016), so all we can do is put your name on a waiting list for a chance to leverage ComEd's Smart Ideas standard and custom incentives.

This experience tells us two things:

  1. ComEd's energy efficiency programs are being utilized as intended and as a result, are now oversubscribed, and
  2. ComEd's efficiency programs could and should be increased cost-effectively to continue providing customers with more opportunities to save money and reduce energy demand.

Some history

Illinois utilities first began offering their customers opportunities to save money and energy back in 2007 when the Illinois General Assembly passed the Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (EEPS) requiring ComEd and Ameren to reduce electricity demand by an increasing amount each year. The way our utilities meet that obligation is by offering all customers a wide range of services, rebates, and incentives to become more energy efficient, thus cutting energy demand and customer electric bills.

Now in their eighth year, Illinois utility efficiency programs are mature and their benefits are well-documented. These programs are designed by ComEd and Ameren with input from stakeholders that include groups like the Illinois Attorney General's Office, Citizens Utility Board, NRDC, and other experts. Each program has to meet a rigorous cost-effectiveness test, ensuring it will save consumers more money than the price to implement them. Utilities regularly do what are known as "potential studies" to determine the different types of energy savings that can be achieved over a given period and file reports with the Illinois Commerce Commission to again ensure that proposed programs are cost-effective and will result in real energy savings and customer benefits.

History shows that the benefits of energy efficiency for Illinois residents, businesses, and industries are clear and uncontested. However, a cost cap embedded in the 2007 law limits how much the utilities can spend on energy efficiency programs. This has had the perverse effect of preventing the utilities from not only meeting their statutory energy requirements of reducing energy demand, but from continuing to invest in the cheapest, cleanest way to meet electricity service needs while helping consumers save on their energy bills. And it's also why we find ourselves with an oversubscribed, heavily utilized "Smart Ideas" program.

Change is needed

NRDC and the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition have been advocating for an update to the energy efficiency standard. The Clean Jobs Bill, introduced by Sen. Don Harmon and Rep. Elaine Nekritz, would set a new goal to cost effectively cut electric consumption by 20 percent by 2025; which represents an approximate 50 percent increase to programs offered under current law. The energy efficiency provisions contained in the Clean Jobs Bill are anticipated to save consumers more than $1.6 billion over the next 15 years, or approximately $100 a year going forward for the average residential consumer, according to an analysis by the Citizens Utility Board, a consumer watchdog.

There would be many more benefits from expanding our efficiency programs, including helping our local economy and workforce as well as our health and environment. The more energy we save, the more money we have to spend in other areas of our economy, such as groceries or a night out at a favorite restaurant (assuming you can get a reservation).

Additionally, an entire clean energy industry has emerged as a result of the energy efficiency market in Illinois and it includes auditors, architects, building design professionals, construction workers, carpenters, and contractors that make, install, and maintain energy efficiency measures, all done locally. You cannot send a building to China to be retrofitted, for example; the work has to done within the local economy.

While there have been several attempts to weaken or roll back the state's energy efficiency programs, the best path forward is to increase access and affordability of energy efficiency by expanding these programs to ensure we continue seeing the benefits--so no one is told that they have to add their name to a waitlist when they are attempting to make efficiency improvements.