The 15 largest utilities in the Pacific Northwest and the largest combination utility in the West reported significant energy conservation by their retail customers earlier this month. Northwest utility customers lowered their demand by 108 average MW last year, according to a survey by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

In San Francisco, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. reported earlier this month that more than 60% of its eligible residential and small business customers reduced their natural gas use by at least 10% in January as part of a statewide incentive program in which customers get a 20% rebate on future gas charges if they reduce their year-over-year monthly consumption in January, February and March.

“It’s rewarding to see customers taking action to lower their usage and be on track to earn the rebate,” said Tom Bottorff, PG&E’s senior vice president for regulatory relations, who noted that the company stepped up conservation incentives this winter in the face of volatile wholesale natural gas prices.

Northwest Power Council Chair Tom Karier called the energy savings throughout last year by Northwest power customers of the region’s largest utilities “an impressive achievement,” given that they represent 80% of the region’s electricity demand and that their efforts met the council target for 2005 energy savings as outlined in the Fifth Northwest Power Plan, issued in December 2004.

Under that plan, the region is seeking to meet its future power demand increases from a mixture of conservation and new power plants, primarily wind power sources. The plan targets 700 average MW of new conservation between 2005 and 2009. (An “average MW” is 1 MW, or 1,000 kW, delivered continuously for one year.)

To meet the 2009 goal, the major utilities need to collectively achieve a 105 average MW savings increase each year, so the 2005 results surpassed the goal, the Council noted in announcing last year’s results. However, Karier challenged smaller utilities to step up their efforts, noting that “not all utilities are pursuing conservation on pace with the council’s plan.”

In California, PG&E said that 2.5 million of its eligible residential and small business customers reduced their usage by nearly 33% this past January, compared with January 2005. For residential customers maintaining this pace of savings throughout the three-month winter program, on average they could save about $75 on their fuel bills over the period and earn a future $50 rebate. In total, PG&E gas utility customers could earn more than $100 million in rebates collectively.

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