States find new ways to make energy efficiency pay for utilities

(Midwest Energy News, July 26, 2011)—Imagine pulling into a gas station and being offered a complimentary tune-up to improve your car’s fuel efficiency. You’d probably wonder: what’s the catch?

So how about when your electric utility gives you a free compact fluorescent light bulb? Or your gas company offers to help pay for new windows or a more efficient furnace?

Gas and electric utilities have unique relationships with their customers in that they actually spend money on programs to reduce demand for the products they sell.

Why is this? Most states require utilities to invest in conservation programs as part of the regulation they accept for being able to operate as regional monopolies. In other words, they’re doing it because they have to.

A growing list of states, however, are experimenting with a new approach. Instead of mandating a minimum investment in energy-efficiency programs, policymakers are designing incentives that reward utilities with new revenue for meeting or exceeding conservation goals.

The hope is that giving utilities a path to earning a profit from encouraging efficiency will inspire more companies to proactively ramp up their conservation programs beyond what might have been achieved through mandates only. Continue reading “States find new ways to make energy efficiency pay for utilities”

Read my story on water scarcity in Twin Cities Business

I spent a few months this spring looking into the potential risks and opportunities for Minnesota companies as development, pollution, population growth and climate conspire to strain our planet’s fresh water supply. The risk may seem distant here in the land of 10,000 lakes, but in an age when global supply chains span the globe, few industries will be unaffected. Some are already feeling the effects. Meanwhile, the Twin Cities is home to a promising cluster of companies and technologies that could play a role in addressing the coming global crisis. Read more in the July issue of Twin Cities Business magazine.