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Tuesday, 31 October 2000
By Alan D. Fischer
Arizona Daily Star

Energy conservation programs that save the local economy $150 million per year should be expanded throughout Arizona, state utility regulators said yesterday.

"In my view, Pima County and Tucson should be applauded for this effort," said Bill Mundell of the Arizona Corporation Commission. "I believe it should be a statewide effort. I want to see what we can do to conserve energy throughout the state."

Yesterday, Mundell and ACC Chairman Carl Kunasek held a Tucson meeting that explored energy conservation efforts. About 25 people attended.

Al Nichols of the Tucson-Pima County Metropolitan Energy Commission told the corporation commissioners that conservation programs reduced Tucson energy consumption by 9 percent per capita between 1992 and 1998. This saved the local economy about $150 million during 1998, he said.

Contrary to claims arising in other areas of Arizona, mandatory energy savings programs have not harmed the local building industry, Nichols said. He said mandated energy features add $500 to $800 to the cost of a typical home, but said there is a big consumer demand for the programs, which offer long-term savings. He added that builders are competitively marketing energy efficiency.

"I urge mandatory standards on a statewide level," Nichols said.

Betty K. Pruitt, of the Arizona Department of Commerce's Energy Office, said something as simple as leaky vent ductwork can run up huge and unnecessary air conditioning bills.

She said a Florida study showed duct leakage used up 10 percent of the total electricity generated in the state, and added she believed the situation is similar in Arizona.

"Tight, well-insulated ducts and a properly installed air conditioner should reduce cooling use by 42 percent," Pruitt said.

Valerie Agnew, director of marketing at Tucson Electric Power Co., said the local utility has offered conservation programs since 1984. Efforts include education programs aimed at commercial and residential customers, new construction conservation programs, low-income weatherization efforts and planting shade trees to keep buildings cooler.

Agnew said TEP is also saving energy through renewable sources like solar photovoltaic and landfill gas reclamation and through GreenWatts, where customers pay a premium for power that is invested in renewable programs.

"Education and letting people know what they can do to help will pay off," the ACC's Kunasek said. "This isn't rocket science, it's common sense."

He said a sense of consumer complacency is being shattered by rising energy costs. "They don't care until it hurts," Kunasek said. "People will take notice when this hits them in the pocketbook."

Mundell said many of the conservation methods don't cost anything and save business and residential customers energy - and money.

* Contact Alan D. Fischer at 573-4175 or at