Among energy efficiency advocates, “decoupling” is the word of the day. Last year, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities issued an order decoupling utility rates from sales volume, joining California on the front lines of this issue. The point of decoupling is to eliminate utilities’ rate-based incentive simply to sell more and more power, thus making it easier for utilities to get behind demand management measures.
Congress is now grappling with the decoupling issue as it considers whether to require that states implement decoupling as a quid pro quo for stimulus money related to energy efficiency and conservation. Last week, both the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissions and the Industrial Energy Consumers of America sent letters to congress opposing decoupling provisions.
With climate change lingering in the background, and with an increasing chorus saying that we have to act yesterday in order to prevent the worst impacts of global warming, there is going to be a lot of pressure on Congress to get this right, and to do so quickly, in order to maximize incentives for energy efficiency. Decoupling clearly seems right as a theoretical matter, but this is definitely a “devil is in the details” situation par excellence. The decoupling issue might be better decided as part of comprehensive negotiations over a climate change bill than as part of hurried discussions over the stimulus package.