Utility programs are natural conduits for the delivery of comprehensive sustainability programs that include energy efficiency and renewable energy in combination with climate action, water efficiency, smart growth, waste reduction and recycling. The California Sustainability Alliance conducted its first Utility Sustainability Roundtable in November 2007 in order to identify opportunities for utilities to leverage their energy efficiency programs through the broader umbrella of sustainability. The Alliance was delighted to learn that some utilities were already looking beyond traditional programs for new ways to save energy, and that sustainability was one of the key strategies being explored.
At the Alliance’s second Utility Sustainability Roundtable, held in spring 2010, the issue was revisited within the context of current markets, policies, rules and regulations. While roundtable participants generally agreed that climate action and other sustainability initiatives do provide additional channels for achieving more cost-effective clean energy, a wide variety of hurdles that substantially impede innovation were identified.
Notably, most utility energy programs in energy efficiency, demand response and renewable energy are purposely kept separate from one another, ostensibly to assure that ratepayer investments fund only those programs for which the funds were intended. Unfortunately, creating walls around programs that are inherently complementary can thwart a utilities’ ability to access the multiple resources and value streams from cross-cutting programs that could otherwise benefit the very ratepayers.
One thing is clear: in order to overcome these types of barriers, California needs representatives from all key stakeholder groups – policymakers, regulators, state and local agencies, utilities, and ratepayers – to come together to help identify these types of unintended consequences so that we can work together to overcome them. Download the 2010 Utility Sustainability Roundtable Report.