Utility’s Energy Efficiency Program Means Cash for Customers

Tom Johnson | August 11, 2011 | Energy & Environment
State's draft energy plan also addresses energy efficiency, though not to the satisfaction of consumer and business critics

More than 10,000 customers of New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) have taken advantage of the utility’s SaveGreen project, a program that has awarded more than $9 million in rebates to customers.

The Wall Township utility provides residential customers information and incentives to help them save energy and money, including an enhanced $900 rebate for qualified high-efficiency heating equipment. When combined with state incentives from its Clean Energy program, customers receive up to $1,200 in total rebates.

The state is considering an overhaul of its programs to encourage residents to undertake energy efficiency projects. A new draft Energy Master Plan envisions “several innovative alternatives to the existing energy efficiency programs that should be evaluated.” They include setting up a revolving loan program or the creation of an “energy efficiency utility” that would generate revenue out of energy savings.

Meanwhile, the legislature is considering bills that would establish energy efficiency certificates, similar to what owners of solar systems earn for the power their installations generate.

Energy Audits

NJNG has been one of the more aggressive utilities pursuing energy efficiency savings for its customers. To date, SaveGreen has completed 10,017 energy audits, helping customers to evaluate what measures they can take to make their homes more energy efficient.

In total, the utility’s customers have benefitted from more than $18 million in energy-efficiency financial incentives, according to the company.

“Over the short term and, most importantly, for years to come, this investment will help generate annual savings on energy bills, and support a commitment to sustainability for NJNG and our customers” according to Tom Massaro, vice president of marketing and business intelligence.”

Although the Energy Master Plan embraces energy efficiency, some clean energy advocates are upset that it recommends scaling back the previous goal of reducing energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020. Business lobbyists also have been critical of the state’s clean energy program because they say larger users of energy contribute more to a state fund that finances energy efficiency projects, but get less than residential users, even though projects at larger firms return a bigger bang for the bucks that are invested.

Besides NJNG, Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) has been a big proponent of helping customers save energy costs through cutting energy consumption. It recently won approval from the state to help hospitals and local governments reduce their energy bills through energy efficiency projects.

The board approved the Newark utility’s plans to invest $103 million to help cash-strapped hospitals, municipalities and multifamily housing units undertake projects to reduce energy use and reap savings on their energy bills. The utility says it expects the projects will create another 377 fulltime jobs, according to Jerry May, director of the Division of Energy at the BPU.