Thursday, March 15, 2012 | 6:33 p.m.
CARSON CITY — NV Energy must suspend or scale back some of its energy saving programs because they are not cost effective, regulators said today.
The state Public Utilities Commission directed the utility to stop operating its weatherization program for low-income residents and to halt its subsidies of energy-efficient light bulbs. Suspending those two programs will save ratepayers $3.8 million.
Commissioner David Noble, who wrote the majority opinion, said every dollar spent on the weatherization program yielded only 20 cents of benefit.
The program provided money to hire contractors to install insulation, low-flow shower heads, pipe wrap and water heater blankets for residents whose income is 150 percent above the federal poverty level.
NV Energy wanted to continue to spend $1.6 million a year on the program. But the PUC told the utility to come back with a more cost-effective program.
“The commission finds that there is not sufficient evidence to support that all ratepayers should pay for the minimal cost reduction benefits provided by the electric low-income weatherization program,” the order said.
The PUC has directed NV Energy to scrap its $2.5 million in subsidies for energy-efficient light bulbs. The utility provides money to stores to keep down the price of the light bulbs.
The PUC said there is a 32.8 percent “free ridership” related to the subsidy, meaning the consumer would have purchased the light bulb without the subsidy.
Commissioner Rebecca Wagner dissented on some of the suspensions or cutbacks.
Nevadans for Clean Affordable Reliable Energy and Southwest Energy Efficiency Project issued a joint statement after the decision saying they were “deeply disappointed” by the opinion.
“These actions will mean households in Nevada will be paying millions of dollars more in utility bills because they will purchase and use less energy-efficient devices such as compact fluorescent and LED lamps,” the organizations said.
Steve Wiel of Southwest Energy said, “The PUC was penny wise but pound-foolish in its decisions today and consumers in Nevada will pay the price through higher utility bills.”
NV Energy was directed to reduce its refrigerator collection and recycling program from an annual $1.4 million to $1 million. The utility pays $30 to $50 to consumers who buy a new refrigerator.
Noble said there was testimony that companies in Las Vegas will pay $15 for a refrigerator so it can be recycled. The program has “free-ridership” of 35.6 percent, the highest of all the energy reduction programs, the PUC said.
“The high free-ridership represents a waste of ratepayer moneys,” wrote Noble in the decision.