Starting in 2017, Entergy New Orleans should ramp up its efforts to save electricity and reduce customers’ utility bills, the New Orleans City Council said this month.

It said the company can do that by increasing the energy-savings goals for Energy Smart, its $7.2 million energy-efficiency program.

Entergy officials said they support the council’s overall goals but question how quickly they can be achieved.

Through Energy Smart, Orleans Parish electricity customers agree to make their homes or businesses more energy-efficient. They may hire contractors to insulate attics, seal ducts or otherwise reduce their need for heating or air conditioning, or they can replace old power-draining light bulbs with more-efficient ones. Entergy pays a portion or almost all of the cost of those actions.

The result is a benefit for both customers and company: Customers see lower utility bills, and Entergy’s need to buy pricey power plants or blocks of power is reduced.

The council first approved the Energy Smart program in 2008 after a community task force concluded that decreased electricity use could help ease the burden of ever-rising energy costs. The program is managed by CLEAResult, a national energy-efficiency implementation company.

To date, more than 22,000 homes and businesses have participated.

Initially, the program was funded through an added charge on customers’ electricity bills. More recently, it has been funded by payments Entergy New Orleans has received from other operating companies in the Entergy system.

In the program’s fourth year, which ended in March, it generated a savings of 18.4 million kilowatt hours of electricity. That’s enough to power, on average, more than 1,500 homes, but it represents a mere 0.3 percent of Entergy’s annual kilowatt hour sales.

Starting in 2017, the council wants Entergy to increase its savings percentage by 0.2 percent each year, until Energy Smart’s savings equal 2 percent of the company’s annual sales, or six times more than the program now saves.

The 2 percent savings goal “is a model for other cities and states and utilities, and it’s a signal that New Orleans is serious about planning for the future,” said Phillip Henderson, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental action group.

Casey DeMoss, of the local Alliance for Affordable Energy, said maximizing Energy Smart can help all Entergy customers, even those who don’t participate, because a reduced power load can lead to lower bills for everyone. She praised the council for calling for the more-ambitious goals at a meeting earlier this month.

To reach the council’s targets, however, Entergy must be able to woo new program participants. To that end, the utility encourages contractors to advertise their services, and it has worked to educate customers and students about energy efficiency, among other methods.

Even with the outreach, it may be tough to achieve the council’s goal, Entergy officials said.

For example, if customers swapped their incandescent light bulbs for energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs in the program’s first year, they can’t do that again, said Gary Huntley, Entergy’s vice president of regulatory affairs. And not everyone can afford pricier energy-efficiency options, even with incentives, he said.

“If you want to increase those goals, you will have to make more investments to get to that point. The low-hanging fruit has been picked, for the most part,” he said.

The council’s energy advisers, however, said Entergy isn’t spending all of the program’s customer incentives budget.

In the program’s most recent year, Entergy used only 87 percent of the program’s incentives budget for east bank residents and 64 percent of the incentives budget for Algiers residents, the advisers said.

At the same time, Entergy nearly met the program’s savings goals, hitting 96 percent of the goal for the east bank and 98 percent of the goal for Algiers.

Under a council resolution approved Dec. 10, Entergy must submit to the council within weeks a filing that explains the shortfall in using all the incentives.

Huntley said the program exceeded its savings goals in past years.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.