Want lower utility bills? Companies to push customers to use less gas, electricity

NJ utilities want to spend hundreds of millions on required efficiency programs
Credit: (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
File photo: Utility employee installs a smart meter.

The state’s utilities want to ramp up spending by hundreds of millions of dollars over the next three years to convince their customers to reduce their electric and gas use, complying with a new mandate to invest in energy efficiency programs.

The filings last week by six of New Jersey’s utilities have the goal of advancing the Murphy administration’s clean-energy ambitions by reducing pollution, potentially creating thousands of new green energy jobs, and saving customers’ money, be it homeowners or businesses.

By most estimates, energy efficiency is a win-win-win scenario for consumers, energy companies and the environment. Not only does it reduce energy bills, a two-year-old state law ensures companies will recover the costs of their investments in curbing consumption of fossil fuels at the same time it helps combat climate change and improve air quality.

Once considered a leader in energy efficiency programs, New Jersey has fallen into the middle level of states investing to reduce energy use by consumers and businesses. That drop reflects utilities not being able to recover lost revenue from investing in such programs — a policy adopted by many other states, which some proponents argue had been rectified by the Clean Energy Act of 2018.

The array of programs proposed by the utilities in their filings include incentives for energy efficiency upgrades, rebates on energy efficiency appliances, and targeted assistance for low- and moderate-income households.

What Atlantic City Electric plans

For instance, Atlantic City Electric plans to invest $99 million in its energy efficiency programs, including $600,000 in workforce development to support local workers and new businesses.

“We are committed to ensuring new jobs in the energy efficiency sector are filled locally and equitably across the communities we serve and that our programs help grow local, diverse and minority businesses,’’ said Gary Stockbridge, ACE’s region president.

The utilities’ planned spending goes from $18 million by Rockland Electric for its 72,000 customers to $249 million by New Jersey Natural Gas for its half-million customers. Overall, the utilities propose spending over $865 million, if all their programs are approved by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, an unlikely scenario.

Last week, the agency approved an earlier petition filed by Public Service Electric & Gas to spend $970 million on 10 energy efficiency programs, a scaled-back version of a more ambitious program by the state’s largest utility to invest $2.5 billion in energy efficiency.

“This is what needs to happen to reduce energy use,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “We need every utility to invest in energy efficiency, not just one. We need this.’’

What it would cost residential customers

For the most part, the various energy efficiency programs will have a modest impact on residential customers. New Jersey Natural Gas projected the program will cost its typical residential customer $21.71 over the 15-year recovery term of the program, or 1.9%.

If approved in full, NJNG said its proposal will save customers more than 128 million therms of natural gas, preventing the emission of over 677,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide — the equivalent of taking 146,000 cars off the road for a year.

“We are doing our part to help New Jersey reduce emissions and realize a clean energy future, while doubling down on our efforts to help our most vulnerable customers save energy and money,’’ said Steve Westhoven, president and CEO of NJNG.

Elizabethtown Gas projected its energy efficiency programs will result in approximately $185 million in customer savings and create more than 2,000 jobs over three years. Its programs include on-bill repayment — or recovery in installments on the monthly bill — and rebates for energy efficiency upgrades, discounted smart thermostats, free weatherization measures for low- and moderate-income customers and tailored solutions for commercial and industrial customers.