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California Launches Largest Energy-Efficiency Effort in U.S. History

SAN FRANCISCO, California, October 1, 2009 (ENS) – The California Public Utilities Commission says it wants to make energy efficiency a way of life in California, and on Thursday, the commisson put its money where its mouth is by approving the largest energy-efficiency program in American history.

The commission approved an energy-efficiency budget of $3.1 billion for Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, San Diego Gas and Electric Company, and Southern California Gas Company, which will cover the three-year period from 2010 through 2012.

This is the largest commitment ever made by a state to energy efficiency and further confirms California’s leadership, the commission said in a statement, adding that the funding from this decision can create between 15,000 and 18,000 skilled green jobs.

“Capturing the full energy efficiency potential in the state requires more than simply providing rebates to support the installation of the latest and greatest widget,” said CPUC President Michael Peevey.

“Broader programs that support holistic approaches to energy efficiency are absolutely essential if we are to achieve the longer term vision and faithfully pursue energy efficiency as the resource of first choice, as articulated by the loading order in the state’s Energy Action Plan,” said Peevey.

These broader programs will create energy savings of almost 7,000 gigawatt hours, 1,500 megawatts, and 150 million metric therms of natural gas, the commission says.

This is the equivalent of three 500-megawatt power plants and will avoid three million tons of greenhouse gas emissions, roughly equal to the emissions from nearly 600,000 cars a year.

The new energy-efficient Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory overlooks San Francisco. The LEED Gold Certified facility houses nanoscience research. (Photo by Doug Lockhart courtesy LBNL)

Commissioner Dian Grueneich, who is responsible for the CPUC’s energy efficiency programs, said, “This decision implements the goals of the California Long-Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan to make energy efficiency a way of life in California and demonstrates California’s continued leadership role in the field of energy efficiency.”

The decision includes the new California Statewide Program for Residential Energy Efficiency, CalSPREE.

Under this program, the commission launches the largest and most comprehensive residential retrofit program in the United States, aiming to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent for up to 130,000 California homes by 2012.

The decision funds $175 million for innovative programs to deliver zero net energy homes and commercial buildings. The funding will cover design assistance, incentives for “above code” construction, and research and demonstration of new technologies and materials.

Consumers who purchase energy efficient products will be eligible for rebates ranging from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars and benefit from lower utility bills from energy savings.

A new Internet portal will make it easier for energy consumers to access tools to reduce energy use.

Under this budget, the commission will also provide over $260 million in funding to 64 cities, counties, and regional agencies for local efforts targeting public sector building retrofits and energy efficiency opportunities.

Over $100 million will go to education and training programs at all levels to ensure a steady stream of skilled blue and white collar energy efficiency professionals.

“This investment in California’s clean energy economy is just what we need to create new jobs for our communities and fight global warming pollution,” said Lara Ettenson, director of California Energy Efficiency Policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The total benefits to California’s economy will substantially exceed the $3.1 billion in investments.”

“At a time when many Californians are struggling to make ends meet, these investments will provide the economic relief we need while meeting our energy demands in a clean, low cost, and efficient way,” added Noah Long, an energy attorney with NRDC.

The California utilities’ energy efficiency programs are a cornerstone of AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which requires that by 2020 the state’s greenhouse gas emissions be reduced to 1990 levels, a roughly 25 percent reduction.

In announcing the historic energy-efficiency budget, President Peevey paid tribute to physicist Dr. Arthur Rosenfeld, a commissioner at the California Energy Commission. “In terms of his influence on energy policy, and, in particular, on raising the profile of energy efficiency as a key resource, he is truly a titan on whose shoulders we stand,” said Peevey. “Without his unflagging commitment and transformational vision, I do not believe today’s decision would have been possible.”

Dr. Rosenfeld is co-founder of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, the University of California’s Institute for Energy Efficiency, and the Washington-based Center for Energy and Climate Solutions.

As founding leader of the Center for Building Science at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Dr. Rosenfeld helped to pioneer development of compact fluorescent lightbulbs, low-emissivity windows, and an influential computer program for the energy analysis and design of buildings.

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