SAN FRANCISCO, CA — State regulators have approved plans by Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Gas to provide $3.1 billion in consumer rebates, retrofits and other efficiency programs over the next three years -- the largest utility energy efficiency effort of its kind in the country, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The California Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved the plans by the four utilities on September 24.

The decision is expected to lower utility bills, help provide cleaner air and bring California closer to implementation of the state's landmark climate legislation, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, AB 32. The law calls for California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

By carrying out the plans, California will avoid the need to build three large power plants during the next three years, according to the NRDC.

"This investment in California's clean energy economy is just what we need to create new jobs for our communities and fight global warming pollution," Lara Ettenson, director of California Energy Efficiency Policy at NRDC, said in a prepared statement. "The total benefits to California's economy will substantially exceed the $3.1 billion in investments."

The energy efficiency plans are to include design and technical assistance for local governments, a drive to retrofit 130,000 homes and programs to help new buildings achieve energy savings that are greater than those cited in the state's building code.

According to the plans, consumers purchasing energy efficient products are to be eligible for rebates, which would range from a few dollars to hundreds depending on the goods that are bought. Web-based tools to help consumers save energy are also to be made available in a new Web portal that bundles the resources together for easy access, the NRDC said.

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