Seattle City Light, one of the nation’s largest municipal utilities, reinforces the notion that utilities can effectively offer demand-side management (DSM) services in regions characterized by low power rates. Despite rates that rank among the lowest in the nation, Seattle City Light (SCL) exemplifies dedication to public power and has proven that commitment to social concerns and energy efficiency can result in exemplary levels of savings through widespread participation in all sectors of the City’s economy. SCL’s success can also be measured by its DSM expenditures as a percentage of gross revenues: In 1993 SCL budgeted a precedent-setting 9.1% of gross revenues for DSM!
Ironically, Seattle City Light was not the instigator of its early emphasis on energy efficiency. Instead, a lawsuit overturned the utility’s planned investment in the Washington Public Power Supply System (a proposed series of nuclear plants) and effectively changed the utility’s course, paving the way for what has become one of the nation’s leading examples of energy efficiency. This success has been supported by the Bonneville Power Administration which over time has funded nearly one-quarter of SCL’s DSM expenditures. More fundamentally, however, Seattle’s energy efficiency success is a reflection of Seattle citizens’ wishes to save on their electricity bills. SCL wants to increase comfort and well-being for all citizens, while fulfilling the utility’s resource requirements through the most socially responsible and least cost means possible.
A key feature of Seattle’s DSM efforts has been its dedicated staff, some of which have been involved in its energy conservation programs since they began in the late 1970s. Another feature has been the utility’s willingness to hire its own critics, reaping talent from unlikely places, gaining strength from adversity, and fully exploiting the talents of a broad array of Seattle’s population to engage one of the nation’s premier efficiency programs.
Coupled with this staff orientation has been a rock-solid focus on evaluation. Since 1980 SCL has developed and benefitted from a highly capable DSM Evaluation Unit. This group provided a solid justification for early energy efficiency initiatives and is now responsible for carefully assessing the impacts of SCL’s DSM programs.
Seattle City Light has clearly demonstrated the power of collaboration. To support energy efficiency for the City’s low-income residents, the utility has worked closely with Seattle’s Department of Housing and Human Services. With many other regional utilities it created the Lighting Design Lab, one of the nation’s first and most successful energy centers. To address water shortages in the region, it collaborated with other City departments and utilities to implement the highly successful Home Water Savers program. These types of collaborations, coupled with its unique business culture and commitment to its customer/owners, yield a truly exemplary model of municipal utility DSM success well worthy of examination and replication.
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