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Katharine Lau/Medill

David Baker of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity addresses Midwest energy professionals at a conference in Chicago Thursday. 

Going green a challenge for Exelon Corp.

by Ben Humphrey and Katharine Lau
Jan 14, 2010

Exelon Corp. subsidiary Commonwealth Edison Co. acknowledged at a Chicago conference that it's a struggle to market green products to consumers. The admission highlights the challenge for utilities of getting consumers to shell out more for energy efficient products like compact fluorescent (CFL) and light emitting diode (LED) bulbs.  

For ComEd, it’s not really a choice. The Illinois Power Agency Act of 2007 mandated that every utility generate an increasing percentage of its power output from renewable energy sources. Renewable energy must account for 10 percent of a utility’s power by summer 2015 and at least 25 percent by 2025.

The legislation puts utilities in a tough spot. They do not receive incentives for meeting standards, and they incur penalties for missing them, said Tim Melloch, ComEd’s director of energy efficiency services.

One of ComEd’s primary tactics for achieving efficiency goals is to promote new compact fluorescent light bulbs, which require fewer watts than cheaper incandescent bulbs.  However, customers are reluctant to spend more money for the sake of energy efficiency.  Other Midwest utilities such as DTE Energy Co., a Michigan utility, feel a similar bind. “For our customers, being green is secondary to saving money,” said Mike McNalley, director of energy efficiency and business energy services, at the Chicago meeting.

McNalley, Melloch and other industry leaders outlined potential solutions Wednesday at the Midwest Energy Solutions Conference, at the Intercontinental Hotel.  One unanimous conclusion was that change starts with the customer: educating the consumer, implementing product changes and then watching spending habits change, Melloch said. 

ComEd has begun tackling this first step by striving to reverse what it considers misconceptions about its residential ENERGY STAR lighting brand. The utility has started to educate consumers and public officials about fluorescent bulb usage, mercury content and proper disposal. ComEd also has acknowledged that a boost in advertising must supplement consumer education. 

Melloch of DTE Energy agreed. “It’s difficult to establish an energy efficient sub-brand without advertising,” he told the conference, adding that new green products must become increasingly visible to engage customers and stimulate an evolution in mindset. 

Michigan enacted its energy legislation in summer 2009, and efficiency mandates are still a relatively new reality, according to Melloch.