SAN FRANCISCO — Prompted by rolling blackouts and some of the nation’s highest energy bills, California residents and businesses used rebates to buy record numbers of energy-efficient appliances and solar panels in 2001.
Three major California utilities and the California Energy Commission say hundreds of thousands of Californians took advantage of dozens of rebate programs for everything from insulation to light bulbs as they tried to cut their long-term energy use and tame unruly utility bills.
“We have never seen anything like it,” said Gil Alexander, spokesman for Southern California Edison. “Apparently, responsiveness to calls for conservation plus the desire to reduce consumption because of rising electricity rates prompted many more consumers to take advantage of programs that are offered each year.”
Many Californians looked to their roofs for savings, cashing in rebates that cut the cost of installing pricey rooftop solar panel systems by as much as half.
Marwan Masri, manager of the renewable energy program at the state energy commission, said the state has received and approved nearly 2,000 rebates this year for solar systems.
“That’s huge. That’s something like maybe five times what we were receiving before the energy crisis hit,” Masri said.
The increased demand could help spur more innovation and competition in the solar industry, which in turn could help lower costs for future customers, Masri said.
Edison has taken more than 1 million phone calls this year from customers hoping to save on energy-efficient washing machines, refrigerators and other appliances, up from 200,000 calls the previous year, Alexander said. The utility has given out more than 70,000 rebates at a cost of roughly $15 million.
In the San Diego area, SDG&E handed out at least 5,000 washing machine rebates and 20,000 refrigerator rebates. That’s up from 2,000 and 4,400, respectively, the previous year, said Jennifer Andrews, an SDG&E spokeswoman.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. customers hauled home more than 150,000 energy-saving lamps, dishwashers, refrigerators and other qualifying appliances totaling $17 million in rebates, said Brian Swanson, a PG&E spokesman.
Ratepayers pay for appliance rebates, low-income power bill discounts and other programs with a small percentage of each month’s payment. Lawmakers also kicked in several million extra for each utility earlier this year after energy costs soared.
High demand, high wholesale energy costs, transmission glitches and a tight supply worsened by scarce hydroelectric power in the Northwest and maintenance at aging California power plants contributed to driving California energy prices skyward earlier this year.
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