Tucson utility proposes $6 million cut to energy conservation programs

TUCSON – Tucson Electric Power proposes to slice $6 million from energy efficiency programs, a move an Arizona consumer-interest group said would hurt residents, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

The utility is seeking a 26 percent cut from a $23 million budget for two energy conservation programs and is no longer accepting applications for the programs this year. A spokesman said money is no longer available but it is already working on hundreds of business projects and would reopen the business program next year.

The Arizona PIRG Education Fund, along with residents and business owners outlined their opposition in a letter to the Arizona Corporation Commission, which will decide whether to approve or turn down the proposal.

The group said energy conservation is necessary for future generations, is a good return on investment and is designed to help small businesses, renters, and families save on utility costs. A Tucson church said energy conservation projects with the utility over several years have paid off.

Our Mother of Sorrows Church has been a part of Tucson Electric Power’s energy efficiency programs for years. Usng the incentives, the church upgraded mechanical and lighting equipment. (Photo by Alexis Kuhbander/Cronkite News)

Utility’s budget woes lead to cutbacks in programs

The utility wants to cut funding to its programs that provide businesses and renters, including those with low incomes, with tools and resources such as helping community groups host workshops that teach customers how to save utility costs and providing discounts for energy-efficient air conditioner installations, according to the utility’s website. Funds come from a customer surcharge to all customers, said spokesman Joseph Barrios.

Customers are paying about $8 more a month under a recent rate increase, Barrios said. Keeping the energy-efficiency programs would add another $2.

The shortfall is because there was surplus money in the 2016 budget that was leftover from the previous year to fund a number of projects, Barrios said. But, as more projects were added in 2017, there was no surplus to carryover and the money ran out, he said.

Tucson Electric Power responded to the consumer group’s opposition in a letter to the Corporation Commission stating that although they are not accepting new applications, more than 500 projects for business are expected to be completed by the end of the year.

“Energy efficiency programs do provide a variety of benefits, and we fully intend to file a new plan with the Corporation Commission in August,” Barrios said. “We expect to offer commercial energy efficiency incentives again after the first of the year.”

Arizona PIRG, even as it opposed the cuts, praised the utility for its “energy efficiency leadership.”

Reduction plan disappoints customers, businesses

The consumer interest group worked with businesses and community organizations in a bid to convince corporation commissioners to keep the programs at its full, $23 million budget, said executive director Diane Brown.

The group’s letter to the Corporation Commission says every $1 invested in energy conservation returns $2.70 in benefits.

Energy efficiency has created 39,000 jobs in Arizona, according to a report by Environmental Entrepreneurs. Such jobs include architects, construction workers and electricians.

Tucson church leader says cuts would cut back its conservation efforts

Leaders of Our Mother of Sorrows Church have developed energy efficient and renewable energy projects with the Tucson utility company over the years. That includes replacing mechanical units in buildings, installing a row of solar panels as covered parking, adding an electric-car charging station and a solar-powered water heater.

Our Mother of Sorrows Church in Tucson plans to replace bulbs in the parking lot’s street lights with high-efficiency lights. (Photo by Alexis Kuhbander/Cronkite News)

About 20 percent of the church’s power is energy efficient, said Hank Kryzsik, the project architect at the church.

“OMOS gets its power from the sun/Son,” a sign on the property reads.

A new project to switch to energy-efficient indoor and outdoor lighting this summer would have to be paid by church parishioners under Tucson Electric’s proposal, Kryzsik said.

“Now that these programs are potentially being cut, it’s disappointing, because the money we would have saved in there could have done some other programs,” Kryzsik said.

He said the lighting program will happen whether or not the church gets the money from Tucson Electric.

“It’s a commitment we made to our parishioners, they’ve invested into a capital campaign, and we know there is going to be energy savings,” Kryzsik said. “We’ve proven it to our congregation on other projects. This one might not pay back as quickly as possible.”