How One Utility Company's Customers Save Enough Energy to Power 18,000 Homes

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Talk about an energy efficiency success story! Consumers Energy, a utility in Michigan, needed to meet the requirements of Michigan's 2008 energy reform law, which says that utilities have to work with customers to cut electric use by 5.5% and natural gas use by 3.85% by 2015. Their work didn't just hit the targets, it blew them out of the water with customers hitting 134% of the target for electricity savings, and 132% of the target for natural gas savings. The utility estimates that energy efficiency measures installed during the first six months of the programs will save more than 145,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) annually of electricity and more than 397 million cubic feet annually of natural gas. That's enough electricity to serve almost 18,000 residential customers, and enough natural gas to serve nearly 3,700 residential customers. What on earth are they doing to hit such fantastic numbers, and why aren't more utilities doing the same?According to the press release, it really came down to customer participation, and the utility credits the success to the consumers who snapped up the programs the utility put in place.

"We are pleased and excited that Consumers Energy customers have responded with such enthusiasm and interest to our energy efficiency programs. Customers are saving money because of these programs," said John Russell, president and chief operating officer of Consumers Energy. "We are increasing our investments in these successful programs, which will continue for at least the next five years."

So what were the programs? Last year, over 170,000 residential customers and over 9,500 business customers latched on to at least one strategy put forth by the utility, which included installing highly efficient gas furnaces, installing over 800,000 CFLs thanks to several local retailers offering discounts on bulbs, business energy audits, rebates and incentives for customers to get appliances and home improvements that boost efficiency, and picking up inefficient extra refrigerators and freezers from customers for recycling. Plus, the efforts added about 120 jobs to the local economy as contractors hired more workers to help with efforts.

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It proves that a utility engaging with its customers - and making being efficient easy for the customers - can provide phenomenal results. It might also have proved that we all need to be setting higher targets for energy efficiency, both from government regulation and from utilities stepping up.

"It pays - in more ways than one -- to become more energy efficient," said Orjiakor Isiogu, chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission. "Savings come not only from appliance rebates but from reduced energy usage. I encourage Consumers Energy electric and natural gas customers to explore the many options they have as part of the company's energy optimization program."

And we encourage more utilities to explore what Consumer Energy has accomplished so they can ramp up their own efforts.

If we can surpass simple goals just through basic measures, imagine what we can do with an implemented smart grid...
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