BOSTON -- State regulators want to update an energy efficiency program to reach people who traditionally haven't participated as part of a review that could lead to higher surcharges on electric bills.
The Department of Public Utilities is reviewing its energy efficiency guidelines as it crafts a new three-year plan for Mass Save. The utility-supported programs provide incentives to reduce energy use.
As part of the review, regulators will consider ways to reach consumers who traditionally don’t respond to the efficiency programs. Those include renters, low- and moderate-income households, immigrants with limited English skills and small businesses.
Environmental advocates say reaching those consumers is key to improving statewide energy efficiency and meeting ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say contribute to climate change.
"We're missing out as a state if we don't do more to reach these people," said Amy Laura Kahn, a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation. "The more that we can connect households, renters and businesses to these resources, the better we will do to meet our goals by ratcheting down emissions."
The state Department of Energy Resources is also pushing to increase participation by hard-to-reach groups, according to an agency spokesperson.
So is the Energy Efficiency Advisory Council, a panel of state officials, environmentalists and utility representatives that is also reviewing the plans.
Mass Save is funded by a surcharge on utility bills as well as proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade system aimed at reducing emissions from power plants.
The state’s review could lead to higher residential and commercial utility bills as regulators also look at efficiency surcharges applied to electric bills.
The 0.0025 cent per kilowatt-hour surcharge hasn't been increased since 1997. How much individual consumers are charged varies by utility and whether they are residential, commercial or industrial customers.
National Grid's energy efficiency program, for example, charges 1.848 cents per-kilowatt hour for residential and 0.717 cents per kilowatt-hour for commercial customers, according to state energy data.
Eversource charges 1.679 cents per kilowatt hour for residential and 0.643 cents per kilowatt-hour for commercial customers.
The fees drum up about $2 billion a year, which helps pay for home efficiency audits and other programs to reduce consumption and lower utility bills.
The review comes as Massachusetts slips from its top spot as the most energy-efficient state in the nation.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy recently gave California a No. 1 ranking in its annual report, knocking the Bay State to second place after nine years at the top.
Massachusetts' No. 1 ranking had been a source of pride for the Baker administration, which has regularly boasted of its policies aimed at saving natural gas and electric consumers money.
Massachusetts requires utilities to develop energy efficiency programs every three years.
The new plan would go into effect in 2022.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group's newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com.