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Tucson Electric Power Increases Rates, Stutters on Energy Efficiency

Linda Hardesty

Davis MonthanThe Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) has approved rate increases for Tucson Electric Power (TEP) customers that will take effect July 1. This is TEP’s first base rate increase since 2008.

TEP filed a request for new rates in July 2012. Earlier this year, TEP and ACC entered into a settlement agreement that allows TEP to recover costs of some investments. The average monthly bill of a residential customer with average usage of about 800 kWh is expected to increase by less than $4.

The ACC also increased funding for existing energy efficiency programs but some proposed new energy efficiency programs were not approved and will be discussed at a later meeting for which a date has not been set.

In terms of TEP energy efficiency programs, a spokeswoman for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project said the group is “65 percent happy” with the results of the ACC vote to approve TEP’s energy efficiency programs.

Davis-Monthan

Large TEP commercial customer Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson has worked with TEP’s on-and-off energy efficiency programs. For electricity alone, Davis-Monthan pays more than $6 million annually to TEP (TEP supplies electricity and the base operates its own distribution system).

The base has been able to recoup $80,000 in rebates on $150,000 paid in demand side management surcharges over the past three years, estimates energy manager Greg Noble who is tasked with reducing energy costs at the 10,000-acre air base. The Air Force is required to save 3 percent more electricity every year than the year before.

From 2010 through 2012, the Davis-Monthan replaced 589 old metal halide high-bay lights with more efficient T-5 fluorescents in hangars, machine shops, repair shops and warehouses. TEP provided $75,000 in rebates. Then 508 airfield ground lights were replaced with 6-watt LEDs. Not only will the bulk purchase investment pay for itself in a year, the new bulbs are replaced much less frequently, which saves $25,000 annually in labor costs. Approximately 1,900 incandescent lights in dorms and offices were replaced with CFLs that qualified for a $2,000 TEP rebate.

In addition, Noble will apply for rebates on air conditioning replacements and new buildings that meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) criteria.

While Noble is happy with the rebates, he says, the stop and start nature of TEP’s energy efficiency programs make it difficult to plan ahead for rebate projects. TEP applied to ACC in January 2011 to expand the rebates and efficiency programs it offers to customers, but delays forced TEP to suspend many of its existing programs. Now, more than two years later, TEP’s proposal is still partly in limbo.

In the meantime, Noble’s energy team shaved 7.8 percent off its energy use in 2012 compared to a 2003 baseline. Noble admits that it’s an enormous task, the equivalent to cutting energy use in a small city while maintaining critical infrastructure and amenities for workers and residents. Davis-Monthan is essentially a community of 18,000 residents and includes houses, dorms, an airport, industrial facilities, banks and retailers. The base continues to grow: All 13 new buildings including the fire station are constructed for minimal energy use and meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.

Other energy efficiency projects at Davis-Monthan include:

  • Thermal Ice Storage Plant. Currently, natural gas engine driven chillers cool a central core of 12 buildings. Electric chillers are being added along with thermal storage andwill cool an additional 21 buildings at twice the energy efficiency, savingabout $500,000 per year in air conditioning costs. The electric chillers make ice at night and use the melted ice as cold water to provide air conditioning during the day.
  • Energy Awareness on Base. Events and education twice a year: Earth Day and October Energy Awareness Month. Airmen, families and employees are educated on energy and water conservation.
  • University of Arizona partnership. Students enrolled in the University of Arizona’s School of Architecture Graduate Program performed energy audits on base, gaining real-world experience and sharing information on the latest energy efficiency technologies.
  • LEED certification. All new buildings are constructed to LEED standards. 13 projects are registered to be certified as LEED Silver, including the new fire station.


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