The Energy Trust of Oregon (ETO) is a nonprofit organization funded by taxes imposed on utility ratepayers. Most of the tax money is spent on subsidies for energy conservation programs.
While energy efficiency is a good idea, not all projects pencil out. State law requires that specific measures, such as installing additional attic insulation, be “cost-effective.” That means that installing the measure makes more financial sense over the long term than having the utility simply provide more energy. Projects that are too costly are disallowed.
Now that the country is experiencing a glut of natural gas, many conservation measures no longer meet the legal requirement; but the Energy Trust wants an exception in order to continue funding its energy efficiency programs. Proponents argue that energy conservation is always cheaper in the long run than building a new power plant, but clearly this is not the case. According to the Energy Trust itself, some of their efficiency measures only return two dollars of benefits for every five dollars spent.
The staff of the Public Utilities Commission is recommending that some conservation measures preferred by the Trust be disallowed in order to protect ratepayers from excess taxation. This is the proper recommendation to make, and the Commission should support it.
When natural gas prices are low, ratepayers should be rewarded, not punished by continued taxation for projects that no longer make sense.