A public hearing by the Salt River Project board of directors revealed a shocking phenomenon Thursday: consumers who said they are willing to pay higher electricity rates.
There was a catch, however. They want all of the additional money used for energy-efficiency programs that would reduce electric consumption - and thereby save money in the long run.
The speakers, some representing environmental groups, urged the utility to set the goal of a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption by 2020, excluding power supplies to new customers.
"Decreasing the (demand for electricity) decreases the need to build more power plants, which we know are very controversial," said Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club.
The board had originally scheduled the meeting Thursday to hear public comments on a proposed 8.8 percent rate increase advanced by SRP's management. But on Sept. 1 the board deferred consideration of a major portion of that plan until next year, leaving no net change in SRP's rates through at least May 1.
As a result, the hearing was a lot less raucous that it might otherwise have been. However, the board's decision didn't discourage energy-efficiency advocates from prodding the board to do more for conservation and renewable energy.
SRP Director of Corporate Pricing Rob Nichols said SRP is planning to increase spending on energy-efficiency programs next year by $12 million, or 31 percent, to $50 million.
Among the programs are rebates to customers who buy more energy-efficient appliances and air conditioners, and subsidies to encourage the purchase of energy-efficient florescent lights.
Next year's budget calls for expansion of those programs plus expansion of residential and small-business energy audits that offer suggestions on conserving energy and saving money, said Debbie Kimberly, director of SRP's sustainability programs.
She said the feasibility of a 20 percent energy-efficiency goal is under study by the SRP staff. The Electric Power Research Institute has concluded that a 5 to 8 percent reduction by 2020 is more realistic, she said.
Not everyone at the hearing jumped on the energy-efficiency bandwagon. Gary Mirich of Arizonans for Electric Choice and Competition, which represents large industrial users, said members of his group can't always take advantage of efficiency discounts because they must run their large machines until they are used up rather than replace them immediately with the latest high-efficiency machines. Mirich said there are other ways large industries try to be as efficient as possible.
"The energy-efficiency charge is substantial for us. Be prudent in the growth in that portion of the bill," he urged the board.
The SRP board is considering a 2.5 percent rate increase to be effective Nov. 1 to pay for efficiency, renewable energy and other government-mandated programs. However, that will be offset by a 2.5 percent decline in fuel prices to run the project's fossil-fuel generators, resulting in a net no change in electric rates.