Significant progress was made on the energy efficiency and clean transportation fronts in the Southwest this past year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and all its adverse impacts. Here is my list of the Top 10 energy efficiency stories from the region in 2020. The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) team played a key role in securing these advances.
1) Lower income households receive increased energy efficiency support
The number of families struggling to pay energy bills surged due to the impacts of COVID-19. In 2020, utilities across the region stepped up their efforts to help lower income customers make energy efficiency improvements and thereby lower their utility bills. New energy efficiency plans for Arizona Public Service (APS), Xcel Energy in Colorado, and the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) will lead to even greater support starting in 2021. SWEEP strongly advocated for these shifts in program priorities.
2) Nevada governor moves forward on clean cars
On June 22, Governor Steve Sisolak announced that Nevada will begin a rulemaking to adopt the Clean Cars Program, a policy that would require automakers to build and deliver more efficient vehicles to Nevada including more plug-in electric cars and light trucks. Travis Madsen, SWEEP’s Transportation Program Director noted, “This policy will replace oil produced in other states with electricity generated in Nevada — saving Nevadans billions of dollars, cleaning up our air, and helping to build back our economy even better than it was before the pandemic hit.”
3) New Mexico updates building energy codes
On August 7, the New Mexico Construction Industries Commission voted to adopt a statewide energy conservation code based on the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code — with some New Mexico specific amendments. This new energy code will reduce energy use in new residential and commercial buildings by about 25 percent given that the state had been using the 2009 version of the code. Tammy Fiebelkorn, SWEEP’s New Mexico Representative said, “Updating our energy code is one of the most important and effective things New Mexico can do to reduce its climate impact from the buildings sector.”
4) Arizona Commission approves new energy efficiency plan for APS
On September 24, the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) approved a new plan that will greatly expand the energy efficiency programs implemented by APS. The new plan includes: additional assistance to help income-challenged families upgrade the efficiency of their homes, expanded rebates for air conditioner replacement, and new incentives to assist businesses and public sector entities upgrade energy efficiency. “By their vote today, the Commission is helping limited income households gain access to well-needed additional resources to save money on their monthly bills,” said Cynthia Zwick, Executive Director of Wildfire in Arizona and a SWEEP Board member.
5) Southwest utilities start promoting beneficial electrification in buildings and industry
In 2020, several utilities in the Southwest proposed offering incentives to encourage their customers to shift from natural gas-based space and water heating to high efficiency heat pumps. In Utah, both the gas utility (Dominion Energy Utah) and main electric utility (Rocky Mountain Power) proposed and received approval for such incentives. In Colorado, Xcel Energy proposed building efficiency incentives as part of the utility’s 2021-22 energy efficiency plan. And in Arizona, the Salt River Project began offering incentives for electrification projects undertaken by commercial and industrial customers as well as for high efficiency heat pumps purchased by households.
6) New Mexico Commission approves new energy efficiency plan for PNM
On October 28, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission approved a new plan for PNM's energy efficiency and demand response programs during 2021-23. The plan scales up the utility’s programs, with PNM striving to increase energy savings achieved by its customers by around 50 percent during 2021-23 compared to savings achieved from programs implemented during 2018-20. The expansion of PNM’s energy efficiency programs came in response to new energy savings targets and other policies adopted by the New Mexico legislature in 2019.
7) Nevada finalizes lamp efficiency standards
On November 2, Nevada approved a regulation requiring all general service lamps that are sold in the state starting on January 1, 2021 to meet or exceed an efficacy of 45 lumens per watt. This means that retail stores can no longer legally sell inefficient incandescent and halogen incandescent lamps in the covered lamp categories. As a result of this regulation, it is expected that highly efficient LED lamps will represent most lamps sold in Nevada starting in 2021.
8) Arizona Commission establishes 100 percent clean energy as well as new energy efficiency standards
On November 13, the ACC approved new standards requiring Arizona's investor-owned electric utilities to be 100 percent carbon-free by 2050 and also meet benchmarks along the way. In addition, the ACC adopted new energy efficiency standards requiring electric utilities to achieve at least 1.3 percent annual energy savings on average during 2021-30. Ellen Zuckerman, SWEEP’s Arizona Representative and Utility Program Co-Director said, “Energy efficiency will take its rightful place as the least-cost resource to meet customer needs and spur economic growth.”
9) Southwest states shine in new ACEEE State Energy Efficiency Scorecard
Nevada was recognized as the Most Improved State in the 2020 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard released in December by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). Nevada gained 5.5 points and moved from 26th place in 2019 to 21st place in 2020. New Mexico also significantly boosted its ranking in the 2020 Scorecard, gaining 4.5 points and moving from 33rd place in 2019 to 24th place in 2020. And Colorado continued as the leader among Southwest states, gaining 3.5 points and moving from 14th place in 2019 to 11th place in 2020. Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico increased their scores by ramping up energy savings from utility energy efficiency programs, adopting new building energy codes and/or lamp efficiency standards, and advancing policies to improve vehicle fuel efficiency and accelerate electric vehicle (EV) deployment.
10) Colorado Commission approves Xcel Energy’s Transportation Electrification Plan
On December 23, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission approved Xcel Energy’s first Transportation Electrification Plan. This landmark plan calls for Xcel investing $107 million in electrification projects during 2021-23. Incentives will be offered in a range of areas including for charging equipment installed in homes, apartment buildings and businesses, public DC fast charging stations, and bus electrification. Higher incentive levels will be offered to facilitate EV purchases by income-challenged families and communities exposed to high levels of air pollution.
In summary, the region made important strides in advancing greater energy efficiency and clean transportation in what was otherwise a very challenging year. I expect Southwest states to accelerate these efforts in 2021.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Howard Geller is the Executive Director of SWEEP, a public interest venture he founded in 2001.