NPR
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Science Environment

PUC Assures Extension Of Energy Savings Law

Pennsylvania's Public Utility Commission (PUC) has convinced environmental advocates that the state's energy savings programs will not be left for dead come next summer. PennFuture has withdrawn its petition to the commission asking to begin the process of extending the energy savings law known as Act 129, which is set to expire in May of 2013. 

Pennsylvania's Public Utility Commission (PUC) has convinced environmental advocates that the state's energy savings programs will not be left for dead come next summer. PennFuture has withdrawn its petition to the commission asking to begin the process of extending the energy savings law known as Act 129, which is set to expire in May of 2013. 

The decision was made after PennFuture met with PUC leadership and staff, who assured them the programs will continue. Commission Chairman Robert Powelson said the PUC is very supportive of the Act's programs, and is eager to get  feedback.

"Well I think the message was that we want all interested parties to have a seat at the table as a part of our stakeholder process, and I think PennFuture, to their credit, was very aggressive in wanting, obviously, an opportunity to meet with myself and my colleagues to talk about these issues," Powelson said. 

Advocacy groups like PennFuture are primarily concerned with the timing of the act's extension. The PUC is required to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of Act 129's programs and make a decision for its extension by November 30, 2013. However, if the PUC does not take action before the law's expiration date, PennFuture says there will be a "blackout period" during which electric companies will suspend their energy efficiency programs. Not only will the programs stop functioning until the extension decision is made in November, but the programs will remain in limbo until the electric companies have re-applied for and been granted program permits. PennFuture says this would result in an indefinite period of job losses, consumer confusion, and reduced return on investments.  

PennFuture Energy Center Director Christina Simeone said that they had no prior assurance that the PUC would act quickly enough to extend the programs. 

"After meeting with Chair Powelson we feel comfortable that the PUC is moving forward and will not let the programs lapse," Simeone said. "We believe the process will move faster without our petition, so are pleased to withdraw it."

PennFuture says that already, Act 129 has significantly cut electricity usage and air pollution, and is saving the state $278 million annually. Powelson says that the PUC has already started an extensive internal review that will aid the commission in setting new savings goals.