An Electrifying Marriage of Interests

It is certainly in the interest of cities to save on utility bills, and in the current competitive environment it is increasingly in the interest of the utilities to help them. What a marriage: energy savings for municipalities and new opportunities for utility companies trying to keep good customers.

The City of Irvine recently announced collaboration with Southern California Gas Co. and Southern California Edison Co. in a deal that was billed, in a recent conference at the Aspen Institute, as a model for city governments and energy-related businesses around the world. In effect the utilities will finance $300,000 worth of energy-saving equipment for the city. This sound idea already has struck a responsive chord in Santa Monica, which is negotiating a similar deal with Edison and The Gas Co. for energy improvements as the city regroups after the Jan. 17 earthquake.

Irvine says it previously saved $66,000 annually on its light bill through retrofitting. The new program is the most ambitious of its kind; it will finance extensive modifications of cooling, lighting, ventilation and energy-control systems. The city will pay its regular bill for five years, with savings going to finance the equipment. Eventually, the city's bills will be reduced permanently.

It's easy to envision broader implications from such a partnership. Indeed, Edison says it estimates that a $2-billion-to-$4-billion market for energy conservation exists in Southern California alone. Irvine's deal is a good start, and more should follow.

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