State programs intended to increase energy efficiency — but which also stand to increase consumer bills — will operate under new rules as a result of recent action by the Texas Public Utility Commission.

The PUC last year began the process of revamping its rules for its ongoing Energy Efficiency Implementation Program. Under this program, utilities are required to spend money to encourage energy efficiency at the consumer level. The rules also establish utility goals for reducing overall energy demand and utilities that meet or exceed these goals become eligible for performance bonuses. But the Energy Efficiency Implementation Program can end up increasing electricity bills because both the cost of administering the program and the cost of the bonuses are recoverable by the utility in rates passed on to the consumer.

Rule changes initially proposed by Commission staff and supported by utilities and environmental groups raised the energy efficiency goals dramatically, with a corresponding increase in the program cost cap and available bonuses. But commissioners expressed concerns about the cost effectiveness of the staff’s recommendations and the rules the commissioners ultimately adopted late last month attempt to strike a balance between the interest of promoting energy efficiency and the interests of ratepayers. For instance, the Commission agreed that the proposed goals will be raised in the future, although they will be raised at a much lower rate than originally proposed. The performance bonuses also will remain at current levels, although the administrative cost cap has been raised to account for the raised goals.

Additionally, the Commission imposed a cost cap for both residential and non-residential customers. For the 2011 and 2012 program years the cost cap will go to $1.30 a month for residential customers, or .0001 cents per kilowatt/hour — whichever is higher. The cap increases again in 2013.

The rules will go into effect December 1.

— Eileen McPhee

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