would subject ratepayers to significant risk of overpayment." In an attempt to strike a balance, the CPUC voted to award $82 million rather than the $152.7 million that the utilities claimed they were owed.
But the independent report, which was finally released two months later, concluded that PG&E and two other utilities shouldn't have been entitled to any incentive payments at all. Based on this analysis, they'd missed the targets.
The move drew criticism from groups like The Utilities Reform Network (TURN), Women's Energy Matters, and the California Public Utilities Commission's Division of Ratepayer Advocates, which charged that investor-owned utilities are more concerned about the payouts they receive for running these programs than maximizing energy savings.
"They didn't seem troubled by the fact that they hadn't met the goals. They were only troubled by the fact that they weren't going to get the financial reward," said Mindy Spatt, communications director for the Utility Reform Network (TURN). "I suppose there's a message in there about just how seriously they take energy efficiency."
Loretta Lynch, a former CPUC commissioner, told the Guardian that she'd been watching the proceedings closely. "They had already promised Wall Street they were going to get this money, and so they had to meet Wall Street's expectations regardless of whether or not they met the technical requirements of the program," Lynch said.
The CPUC's Division of Ratepayer Advocates opposed the decision to award the incentive money. "[The utilities] are being rewarded for something they say they've done, but that independent analysis shows they just didn't do," DRA Regulatory Analyst Thomas Roberts told the Guardian. "It's like rewarding a student for getting a D."
Part of the problem is that PG&E's program relied heavily on giving away compact-fluorescent light bulbs, and then the utility inflated estimates for how much energy savings they would provide and how long they would last. In other words, CFLs are a good first step to energy conservation, but not enough to make the greatest strides in reducing demand.
Roberts also said PG&E often delivered the bulbs to what he called "free riders," or people who would've made the switch on their own. TURN once discovered a box of light bulbs posted on eBay by some crafty entrepreneurs who had purchased them at a discount, courtesy of PG&E. At that point, the bulbs could have wound up anywhere in the country, Spatt points out, instead of reducing electricity demand in California.
"There is no clear connection that we are not building new power plants due to energy efficiency programs," said Cheryl Cox, senior policy analyst and project manager for energy efficiency at the CPUC's Division of Ratepayer Advocates. "And we do not appear to be on track to achieve long-term, persistent energy savings. Given the dependence of energy efficiency portfolios on short-term savings like lighting, it appears that the utilities would have to spend additional dollars to play catch-up yet they persist on proposing the same old, non-progressive, CFL programs."
WHO'S IN CHARGE OF YOUR SURCHARGE?
For some, the incentive payouts provided new fuel for a longstanding argument that utilities shouldn't be in charge of administering state-mandated energy efficiency programs in the first place. Barbara George, executive director of Women's Energy Matters, points out that states with financially disinterested third parties managing energy efficiency measures tend to be more careful with the money they're granted, resulting in more energy savings per dollar.
She points to a report completed by analyst Richard Estevez, which ranked 37 statewide energy efficiency programs by cost-effectiveness.