Paying to save


Sooner or later Americans will have to learn that energy is not unlimited, and the only effective way to teach that lesson is to make it profitable to conserve energy. State regulators are taking that truth to heart with their approval of a plan that would allow a utility to earn a profit on efforts to encourage customers to install xTC energy-efficient appliances, lighting and other equipment. The new agreement between Potomac Electric Power Co. (Pepco) and the Maryland People's Counsel will only affect customers in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, but the Maryland Public Service Commission is also negotiating conservation plans with other utilities in the state.

Eventually, these conservation reward efforts will have to extend beyond energy-efficiency to more ambitious efforts to give customers financial incentives to cut their overall use of electricity, as well as to steer usage away from periods of peak demand (a lesson long-distance telephone callers learned long ago). Consumer patterns may seem ingrained -- but nothing cures wasteful habits as quickly as a financial incentive to save.

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