State conservation buoyed by incentives, weather

The Associated Press
Friday August 17, 2001

SACRAMENTO — Higher electricity rates and state-funded rebates on energy efficient appliances have helped Californians conserve power this summer. But the main reason for that may be due more to the weather than Gov. Gray Davis. 

“We have had a break with the weather, which has been to our advantage,” said Susanna Garfield, spokeswoman for the California Energy Commission. “A third of our electricity use in the summer during peak demand times is from air conditioners.” 

California, the nation’s most populous state, has one of the lowest per-capita rates for energy use, second only to Rhode Island. 

That’s no surprise to Robert Sanford, an appliance salesman at the Marin City Best Buy, who said customers at his store now ask about appliances’ energy use. Six months ago, “it wasn’t even something anyone looked at. 

“People are looking at these for the long haul now. They want to know the energy savings,” he said. 

In other states, people “think we’re sitting out here in our hot tubs,” Garfield said. “But per capita, we’re very efficient.”  

Conservation has happened for several reasons, experts say, including education programs, rebates on power bills and energy-efficient appliances and higher electricity bills. 

State-funded programs “may have had more of a symbolic effect” than a practical one, said Severin Borenstein, director of the University of California Energy Institute at Berkeley. 

Borenstein said all the programs have contributed to the savings – and the corresponding lack of blackouts, but “the leading effect has been Mother Nature. We have had phenomenal weather.” 

Also, the perceived threat of higher electric bills has likely encouraged conservation, although recent rate increases were aimed at large power users, such as commercial customers, Borenstein said. 

“Flex Your Power,” the state’s education campaign, encourages residents to shift their energy-thirsty appliance use to the evenings when the danger of blackouts has passed. 

“Consumers we’ve talked to have made changes,” Garfield said.  

“They are shifting their use – running the dishwasher later, doing laundry at night.” 

Though not all customers are using less, shifting use to off-peak times helps flatten out the peaks in energy use that can bring blackouts, she said.  

The biggest incentive the state has offered is money – rebates for upgrading to energy-efficient appliances and on electricity bills, which state regulators recently increased. 

State energy officials have paid out $60 million to utility customers in rebates as part of Davis’ 20/20 summer conservation plan, which offers a 20 percent rebate for cutting electricity use by 20 percent. 

Nearly a third of PG&E and Edison customers qualified for the rebates in July, and about 38 percent of San Diego-area customers saw some relief on their bills. 

Other state-sponsored efforts encourage long-term drops in energy consumption, from handing out compact fluorescent light bulbs and rebates for most any energy-saving gadget from insulation to energy-efficient air conditioners.  

The state has set aside $50 million in rebates for upgrading to energy-efficient appliances to supplement rebate programs already underway by utilities. 

Sales of any appliance with the Energy Star label has tripled since last year at Cherin’s Appliance in San Francisco, said Lou Cherin. 

“Everyone is energy conscious now,” said Cherin, whose sons own the appliance store. “And there are substantial rebates. The rebates bring the price down dramatically.” 

Upgrading appliances saves a lot of power, without forcing people to make a lifestyle change, Garfield said. A new Energy Star-labeled refrigerator uses half the electricity of a 10-year-old one, she said. 

The rebates have spurred a run on new refrigerators, said San Diego Gas & Electric Co. spokeswoman Jennifer Andrews, with that utility giving out 20,000 rebates of up to $200 for any new energy-efficient appliances. 


In the last five months, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has received 52,000 rebate appliances for refrigerators, compared to 11,700 during the same period the year before, said PG&E spokeswoman Christy Dennis. More than 15,000 PG&E customers have upgraded washing machines, compared to half that amount the year before. 

More than 47,000 Edison customers have applied for rebates on appliances, said Gil Alexander, a utility spokesman. 


On the Net: 

The California Energy Commission: http://www.energy.ca.gov