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At last it’s time to conserve 

WALLY NIXON: Back at PSC, attorney for the three commissioners has been promoting conservation.
  • WALLY NIXON: Back at PSC, attorney for the three commissioners has been promoting conservation.

It took a while, but the state Public Service Commission is finally getting serious about enforcing the Energy Conservation Act of 1977. At the urging of the PSC, all of the utilities doing business in Arkansas are preparing energy-conservation programs and submitting them for PSC approval, which is expected soon. For the last year, the PSC staff has been working with the utilities on the conservation programs.

One of the proposals submitted, the Arkansas Weatherization Program, is a joint project of all seven of the investor-owned utilities in Arkansas — Entergy Arkansas Inc., Southwestern Electric Power Co., Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., Empire District Electric Co., CenterPoint Energy Arkansas Gas, Arkansas Western Gas Co., and Arkansas Oklahoma Gas Corp. This is a “quick-start” program, scheduled to begin Oct. 1 and end Dec. 31, 2009, when it is to be replaced by a more comprehensive plan.

The AWP will provide energy audits to home owners who are residential customers of the utilities. Then it will help pay for energy-efficiency improvements to those homes that are most in need of improvement. For example, AWP will contribute up to $1,500 per home for total electric homes and for combined natural gas and electric homes.

Besides the AWP, each utility will have its own program. The plan for Entergy, the largest of the Arkansas utilities, includes the promotion of compact fluorescent lighting in homes. The CFL bulbs now available in stores are much more energy-efficient than ordinary light bulbs. Wal-Mart is promoting CFL bulbs. An air-conditioning tune-up program for residential and commercial customers also will be available under the Entergy plan.

The big problem in all of these programs is persuading consumers to practice conservation. The Entergy plan says it's designed to “increase participant knowledge of energy-efficiency opportunities” and “increase participant understanding of the economic benefits of energy efficiency,” but it doesn't say exactly how this will be accomplished. It will probably entail advertising and the inclusion of energy-conservation material with bills.

Wally Nixon was in on the ground floor of the PSC energy-conservation effort, and now, after years away from state government, he's back, working on the top floor. Nixon wrote the bill that became the Energy Conservation Act of 1977. At the time, he was employed on the staff of a newly elected attorney general, Bill Clinton. Nixon was a hold-over from the staff of the previous attorney general, Jim Guy Tucker. He says that one of his first conversations with Clinton was about the need for an energy conservation bill. “It was a hot topic then,” he said. The legislature passed the bill, sponsored by Rep. John Lipton of Warren. It went into the statute books, and then was largely forgotten, for various reasons, changes of administration among them.

When Clinton became governor and created an energy department, Nixon joined the governor's staff. When Clinton was defeated after one term, Nixon was booted out of state government by Frank White, the new governor. And when Clinton defeated White in a rematch, Nixon returned as an adviser to the governor. In late 1983, he went to work for the PSC. He stayed there a year and a half, then began a private consulting business. And then, to the consternation of consumer-advocate friends, he joined Entergy and worked there for 15 years. Now he's back at the PSC, an attorney for the three commissioners, and has been promoting conservation.

Early in 2006, Sandra Hochstetter, then the PSC chairman, began pushing for implementation of the Energy Conservation Act. The new chairman, Paul Suskie, who took office in January, has continued her efforts. Nixon notes that Hochstetter was a Republican appointee, and Suskie is a Democrat — proof, he says, that conservation is a bipartisan concept.

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