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Which utilities deliver the most energy efficiency benefits?

Energy efficiency measures both reduce energy consumption and slow the pace of building power plants. Utilities know that, but how much are they doing to promote the idea? A report released Thursday looked at 50 U.S. utilities and ranked them by the investments they have made in energy efficiency and the energy saved. Those in western states occupied top spots, while several in the south finished last.

The report, released by Ceres, a nonprofit advocacy group for sustainability, analyzed how much the utilities invest in energy efficiency programs and the savings they delivered. Energy efficiency is a broad term that describes ways to reduce energy use, from using less power-hungry light bulbs and appliances to insulating pipes and attics to relying on sensors to dial down power use at homes when they detect that the grid is having trouble meeting demand during summer months.

The use of sensors and digital communications to promote energy efficiency and allow utilities greater control of their supply and demand is part of building a smart grid, in which the federal government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars for technology development and deployment.

The report showed that Pacific Gas & Electric, Massachusetts Electric and Narragansett Electric are the top spenders in energy efficiency programs, as measured by the dollar amount per megawatt-hour delivered. PG&E invested $4.76/MWh, followed by Massachusetts Electric at $4.30/MWh and Narragansett at $3.57/MWh. Other top-ranking utilities included Western Massachusetts Electric, Seattle City Light, Sacramento Municipal Utility District and Southern California Edison. The report drew most of its data from statistics collected by the U.S. Energy Information Administration in 2009.

Ohio Edison ranked at the bottom with $0.02/MWh. Above it are Alabama Power at $0.04/MWh and Indianapolis Power & Light at $0.06/MWh. Other low-ranking utilities included United Electric Cooperative Service (Texas), Georgia Power, Duke Energy Indiana and Potomac Electric Power.

Looking at the energy savings (in MWh) as a percentage of the total energy delivered, the report found that Southern California Edison and PG&E tied for the top spot with 1.9 percent, followed by Nevada Power at 1.6 percent, Sacramento Muni at 1.4 percent. Puget Sound Energy rounded off the top five at 1.3 percent.

Ohio Edison again took the last place with zero percent, which is also the score for Indiana Power & Light, Metropolitan Edison, Mississippi Power and Alabama Power.

The report doesn’t take into account energy efficiency programs administered by organizations under contract with utilities because these third-party administers don’t report data to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Not surprisingly, states that have energy efficiency policies are where you find utilities with strong programs. California has long had a policy of divorcing energy sales with profits that utilities can make in order to encourage conservation and energy efficiency efforts. Funding for energy efficiency programs generally come from ratepayers.

But the report noted that although Ohio set an energy efficiency standard in 2008 that requires its utilities to achieve 1 percent savings by 2014 and 2 percent by 2019, Ohio Edison hasn’t done nearly as much as its peers the Ohio Power and Duke Energy Ohio. Ohio Power and Duke have added energy efficiency programs to meet the mandate while Ohio Edison hasn’t done as much.

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