In response to the industrywide sunburn developing from global warming concerns, Bellevue, WA-based Puget Sound Energy (PSE) this spring is rolling out a stepped-up smorgasbord of energy-saving programs with the dual purpose of combating global climate change and rising wholesale energy prices. The combination Puget Energy utility said it is increasingly directing more of its resources in western Washington state to "helping customers conserve electricity and natural gas."

As part of an integrated resource plan (IRP) that it plans to file with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission late in May, PSE's latest programs have a potential to save 70 million therms of natural gas and 3.85 million MWh of electricity over the next 20 years, following programs in recent years that have allowed customers to double and triple their power and natural gas savings, respectively. PSE claims that its energy-saving programs have drawn national recognition.

PSE points to almost three decades of experience pushing energy-saving equipment and programs, starting in 1979 with regular offerings for customers. And as a result, the utility claims that 2 million MWh of power have been saved on an ongoing basis. Essentially, the utility said this has averted the need to build at least one mid-sized power plant.

"Our game plan for meeting customers' growing energy demands includes aggressive energy efficiency programs," said Cal Shirley, PSE vice president for energy efficiency services, an expanded unit at the utility. "Not only is it the right thing to do for the environment, conservation costs less than building new power plants or buying energy on today's wholesale market."

Shirley said that the PSE plans to expand its efficiency efforts in the years to come as a means of protecting air quality in the Pacific Northwest. The utility said it has "almost tripled" its spending on energy efficiency in the past five years, and during that time PSE customers have "more than doubled their annual electricity savings and more than tripled their natural gas savings."

"The steady rise in energy demand within PSE's 11-county service territory can't be met entirely by energy efficiency," Shirley said, "but every megawatt-hour we save through conservation is power we don't have to acquire -- at even higher costs to our customers." The utility offers a variety of programs and incentives to save energy to its residential, commercial and industrial customers, PSE said.

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