Thank heaven for Alabama Power! Were it not for them, Virginia would have, in Dominion Energy, the least energy efficient utility in the whole US.
The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), which has long ranked states, cities and countries on their energy saving programs, recently released its first ranking of the 51 largest electric utilities in the country. These companies were evaluated on their overall success in reducing energy use, on their specific programs to help homeowners and businesses save energy, and on their efficiency targets, differential rates and other strategic approaches.
On every measure, Dominion received failing scores, ending up with a dreadful 5.5 out of a possible 50 points. In other words – they’re not even trying, folks.
In case you’re wondering what sorts of energy-saving programs you’re missing by living in Virginia, here’s a tiny sampling:
- Eversource Massachusetts: “home energy assessment and service programs that provide turnkey energy improvements and rebates” (https://www.eversource.com/responsible_energy/carbon-strategies/Energy-Efficiency-Programs.html)
- PG&E (California): Up to $5,500 in rebates for doing an energy upgrade on your home (https://www.pge.com/en_US/residential/save-energy-money/savings-programs/home-upgrade/home-upgrade.page)
- BG&E (Maryland): Loans and hundreds of dollars in rebates for installing efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (http://bgesmartenergy.com/residential/heating-cooling)
If you care about meeting critical clean energy and climate goals, energy efficiency is the first, most cost-effective step – squeezing the enormous waste out of the system so that we don’t have to produce so much power in the first place.
Of course, that’s why utilities have traditionally avoided promoting efficiency – they make their money by building big power plants and getting their regulators to approve fare hikes on their customers to pay for them. Not surprisingly, the states with the most efficient utilities are also those with progressive governments pushing these companies to do better, with laws like energy efficiency resource standards mandating utilities to hit certain conservation targets.
Yet, as I’ve noted before, you can’t say that Dominion’s terrible performance is the result of Virginia having a more conservative or Southern political environment, because so many utilities in similar environments do a superior job to Dominion. In this particular ranking, among the utilities that performed way better than our own were such radical lefty outfits as Entergy Arkansas, Oklahoma Gas and Electric, and Duke in North and South Carolina, Indiana, Ohio and Florida.
Nor, certainly, can Dominion plead any lack of resources to pursue efficiency goals. The company ranks 8th in the country on sales and 6th in revenue.
There are only two things that Dominion lacks that prevent it from making any detectable effort to increase efficiency. One is willpower, also known as “giving a damn.” But the other, much more important factor, is political pressure, of which Dominion has had to suffer basically none whatsoever.
The utility has paid for this situation. And I mean that literally – since 1996, Dominion has lined the pockets of Virginia politicians with a cool $15 million. They’ve happily given to both Republicans and Democrats (and hired both as lobbyists), because it’s not about ideology, it’s about business – or more precisely, it’s about keeping Virginia’s power system rigged in favor of a monopoly that doesn’t want any politicians holding it accountable for results.
What can you do about this situation? Well, first, fight harder to elect progressive Democrats who are much more likely to challenge entrenched corporate interests than the bought-off Republicans. But second, we need to regularly push Democratic candidates and officeholders to put the interests of Virginians ahead of those of Dominion, and actually start regulating this monopoly rather than letting it call the shots in the Commonwealth.
Third and finally, please turn out the darn lights when you leave the room – making sure they have LED bulbs – and program your thermostat to operate at a milder level when you’re not there. That way, you’ll be contributing less money to Dominion’s political slush fund, while doing the vital energy saving job that your utility has slacked off on you.