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Opposition to Duke Energy's Efficiency Program Centers on Profits, Energy Savings

Hearings on Duke Energy's proposed Save-A-Watt program in North Carolina will conclude this month. First announced in May 2007, the Save-A-Watt program has been met with broad opposition due to how the utility plans to make money and the expected energy savings.

Under the plan, Duke Energy would increase rates for all customers by about $1 a month and offer a number of incentives and rebates for energy-saving items and services such as CFLs, home audits, insulation and efficient appliances. Customers would then pay 90 percent of the costs that Duke avoids incurring thanks to energy efficiencies.

Opponents to the plan say it would overcharge customers, but Duke contends it needs to be able to profit for energy efficiency to be a viable option, according to news reports. Duke says it will only make money off of verified energy reductions.

Critics include the Public Staff state consumer advocacy group, Wal-Mart, AARP, North Carolina Council of Churches and city of Durham.

Public Staff argues, according to the News & Observer, that Duke could realize an operating margin of 61 percent, that the program should aim to save 1 percent of energy annually instead of the proposed .15 percent reduction in energy use from 2009-1012, and that it charges $18.23 for a CFL available elsewhere for less than $2.

Duke says that its operating margin would be closer to 18 percent if the program saves energy, argues than a 1 percent annual reduction is not a reasonable target and says it would provide rebate coupons than make CFLs less than $1. The utility also says that payments for avoided costs will end up being less than the cost of paying for new power plants and generating additional energy, the News & Observer reported.

Hearings before the North Carolina Utilities Commission, which can approve, deny or modify the utility's plan, took place last week and will reconvene Aug. 18 for further testimony.

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