J.R. Tolbert: Duke Energy should be ambitious in effort to help customers save

Keywords Opinion / Viewpoint

As the saying goes, the cheapest energy is the energy we don’t use. And proven, affordable and readily available technologies that reduce energy use can save customers money on their monthly bills. So it’s disappointing that Indiana has deprioritized these cost-saving solutions.

The state’s lack of ambition around energy efficiency in homes is costing Hoosiers, who could be saving more than $1 billion annually, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance also found that, by not prioritizing energy efficiency, Indiana is missing out on hundreds of good, local jobs that could have generated an estimated $14 million in income for Hoosiers over the last several years.

Duke Energy has been part of the problem, underinvesting year over year in programs that would take advantage of this strategy to save its customers millions of dollars and boost economic activity. Duke Energy could help its customers use less electricity by improving its energy-efficiency benefits, like offering rebates for building-equipment and appliance upgrades, installing LED light bulbs, deploying smart thermostats, sealing ducts and airways, and assessing homes with on-the-spot improvements.

Fortunately, Indiana’s largest utility is re-examining how much energy efficiency to support right now. Duke Energy is making changes to its resource plan, which is like a road map of the investments Duke plans to make in its electricity system over the next 20 years. This is an opportunity to be more ambitious to save consumers money.

A new analysis commissioned by Indiana Advanced Energy Economy found that Duke could roll out significantly more low-cost energy-efficiency programs to its customers without raising rates. In fact, the study found Duke Energy could be cost-effectively saving twice as much energy across its footprint than it does today. Doing so would help put Duke Energy’s efficiency efforts more in line with those of some of its neighbor utilities in Indiana, including CenterPoint Energy (formerly Vectren) and NIPSCO, and would translate into major monthly-bill reductions for residential customers.

Duke Energy could also be doing more to help Indiana businesses. Business-focused energy-saving programs would help companies cut down on their energy bills, which would help these businesses make ends meet and make it easier for them to employ more people. Duke needs only to look next door for a great example of energy-efficiency programming for businesses. AES Indiana (formerly Indianapolis Power & Light) is the best in the country for business and industry energy-efficiency efforts, boasting energy savings that are six times greater than Duke’s, in part from programs that directly install energy-efficiency measures on site.

These savings have long-term financial benefits as well. If Duke Energy creates a plan that prioritizes energy savings, it has the added benefit of being able to plan fewer high-cost infrastructure projects in the future. Avoiding the need to spend billions of dollars on things like gas plants and transmission lines means saving Hoosiers serious money on their electric bills for decades to come.

Energy efficiency is a dependable and affordable way to reduce energy demand and costs for customers. With an electricity road map redesign in the works, this is our moment to aim higher so Hoosiers can spend less.•

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Tolbert is managing director at Indiana Advanced Energy Economy, the state chapter of national business association AEE, which advocates for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

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