Achieving equity goals by optimizing energy efficiency programs in Maryland
The Maryland Office of the People’s Counsel (OPC) advocates for responsible use of ratepayer dollars and is a key stakeholder on energy savings programs offered by the utilities under EmPOWER Maryland. But without specialized knowledge of energy efficiency services, the OPC was challenged to provide a comprehensive review and analysis of the programs.
The OPC selected VEIC to act as a third-party energy efficiency expert to complete regular, in-depth reviews of the energy efficiency activities taking place in Maryland and to serve as a key advisor on proposals to improve energy programs and expand their impact. Services: Energy Efficiency
Since 2011, VEIC has helped review and advise on programs that have helped Maryland ratepayers have access to programs that save energy, and has helped the state set ambitious, but achievable energy savings goals.
Collaborating to create energy efficiency programs in Maryland
A successful energy efficiency program is one that saves both energy and money. In Maryland, the intersection between new energy-saving initiatives and ratepayers’ money is a key concern of the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel (OPC), a consumer advocacy agency that represents residential ratepayers on issues affecting the cost and quality of utility services. So when the Maryland General Assembly passed a new law to create an initiative for energy efficiency programs in 2008 called EmPOWER Maryland, the OPC got involved to ensure residential ratepayers were getting the biggest bang for their buck.
However, the OPC is a state agency that functions primarily as a law office. As such, it recognized the need for a highly experienced third-party advisor in the energy sector to help analyze proposed programs and services by EmPOWER Maryland. In 2011, the OPC commissioned VEIC to act as a third-party energy efficiency expert to complete regular, in-depth reviews of the energy initiatives taking place in Maryland and to serve as a key advisor in expanding EmPOWER Maryland’s impact.
We recommended the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® program move from cost-based to performance-based incentives, which has resulted in better energy savings for program participants and utilities.
Partnering with VEIC to achieve equitable energy goals
As a nonprofit committed to designing solutions that make a difference to people and the planet, VEIC already had extensive experience in evaluating and implementing similar programs. This made it possible to conduct comprehensive reviews that balanced the relationship between OPC’s residential customers and utilities. This has benefited the decision-making by the Maryland Public Service Commission.
To ensure appropriate spending for energy efficiency goals, VEIC’s actions include:
- Reviewing semi-annual reports and filing feedback and recommendations with the Maryland Public Service Commission
- Attending hearings on the programs and presenting our findings to the Commission
- Serving as experts and representatives of OPC on work groups to talk through challenges and offer advice
- Providing detailed assessments of proposed 3-year energy efficiency program plans
Energy/cost collaborations work for both utilities and ratepayers
As with all initiatives using ratepayers’ dollars, it’s important to strike a balance between delivering energy services and cost savings. With careful, informed oversight of proposed programs and initiatives, VEIC has helped ensure ratepayers see direct benefits while moving forward with innovative energy efficiency programs in Maryland.
Working with the OPC and the six utilities represented by EmPOWER Maryland, we’ve helped initiate work groups to keep programs relevant, evolving, and equitable for all residential customers. Based on recommendations from VEIC, the state is considering whether to adopt energy savings goals for limited-income programs to aid struggling Maryland residents with utility bills.
Several years ago, the Commission adopted a 2% savings goal with encouragement and support from VEIC. This was considered by some to be aggressive at the time, but we knew with effective programming it was possible and had been achieved in other states. The utilities have been meeting it – often exceeding it – leading to significant savings over time
With energy and cost-savings as our goal, VEIC has used its expertise to help guide both the OPC and EmPOWER Maryland toward more effective, efficient, and equitable solutions for utilities and ratepayers alike.