States Leading the Way on Energy Efficiency
A new report out this week from the National Governors Association, An Energy Efficiency Primer for Governors, highlights just how effective many of our country’s governors have been in moving forward a clean energy agenda that benefits everyone.
While our elected leaders in Washington DC are squandering opportunities to promote the cleanest, least expensive energy source of all—efficiency measures that allow us to do much more with less juice—governors from around the country, from red states and blue states, are making bold and innovative advances that save consumers money, create jobs and cut the power-plant pollution that fuels global warming and compromises our kids’ health. The NGA primer serves as a best-practices guide that other governors and state officials, utilities and their regulators can use.
In fact, some of the most creative ideas in energy efficiency today are being developed by states, in collaborations between governor’s offices, legislators, utilities and their regulators, and non-profit advocacy groups. These ideas shouldn’t just inspire governors, though that’s important, too. They should serve as a model for the nation and for the Environmental Protection Agency as it adopts new rules to cut dangerous carbon pollution from existing power plants.
The report highlights many examples of state efforts to advance efficiency, including:
- A Mississippi law that is increasing energy efficiency standards for new commercial buildings. All state-owned buildings are also now required to meet that code.
- An Alabama executive order that aims to reduce the state government’s energy consumption by 30 percent by 2015, from 2005 levels.
- A statewide energy saving target, in both Massachusetts and Vermont, that reaches 2.5 percent annually.
- A new Hawaii law that enables the state to issue clean energy bonds to underwrite energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements that consumers can then repay on their utility bills.
Already, energy efficiency has brought tremendous financial and pollution savings to our country. (Pollution savings from electric efficiency programs alone in 2011 totaled 75 million tons of carbon dioxide, according to the Institute for Electric Efficiency. That’s equivalent to taking more than 15 million cars off the road.) And no less an authority than the National Academy of Sciences estimates that over the next 25 or so years, we can cost-effectively cut electricity, natural gas and heating oil used in the nation’s buildings by 25 to 30 percent. These savings will obviate the need for many expensive new power plants and their associated infrastructure, and will make our energy system more reliable by reducing demand on the grid.
Photo by Rick Reinhard, under Creative Commons
To help overcome barriers to energy efficiency and advance its incredible potential, governors and states are:
- Establishing energy efficiency goals: States are analyzing the potential for efficiency improvements and setting statewide energy-saving goals. In Ohio, for instance, meeting the state’s energy efficiency targets could save residents more than $5.5 billion by 2020, at a cost of $2.7 billion—a 200 percent return on investment. In addition, governors are leading by example in state operations. Oklahoma’s governor set a goal to reduce state building energy use by 20 percent by 2020.
- Setting minimum efficiency standards for new buildings and appliances: By improving minimum building efficiency codes and setting appliance and equipment standards, governors and state governments are helping ensure consumers do not get stuck with energy guzzlers. For instance, right here in California, we’ve got standards for battery chargers, which charge equipment like cellphones, laptops, and cordless phones. These chargers used to waste two-thirds of the energy they consumed. Now, they’ll be far more efficient. By instituting these new standards, states move the marketplace forward and pave the way for advances in federal equipment standards.
- Refocusing utilities to help customers improve efficiency: In many states, regulatory barriers, such as outmoded rules governing how utilities are paid, often discourage utilities from investing in energy efficiency. This is true even though saving energy through programs like home weatherization and appliance rebates cost utilities at least 50 percent less than building new power plants or transmission lines. States can remove these often-unintended barriers and refocus utilities’ businesses on ensuring they help customers improve energy efficiency whenever it is cost-effective. In Arizona, for example, utilities get a performance incentive if they exceed the state’s energy efficiency goals.
- Creating financing programs: Scaling up energy efficiency requires monetary investments that enable owners to upgrade their homes and businesses. States including Connecticut and New York have taken the lead in creating new financing programs that combine private-sector capital with public funds to help consumers make efficiency improvements.
- Advancing research and development: Partnerships with state energy offices, universities and the private sector can advance research and promote the development of new technologies and processes that unlock even more impressive energy-saving opportunities than we have now. For example, Pennsylvania’s governor launched the Center for Building Energy Science, to develop and showcase materials, technologies and other tools that can optimize building energy performance.
Energy efficiency is great for our country. It saves consumers money on energy. It creates jobs. It significantly cuts the power-plant pollution that increasingly menaces us all. States across the country have championed new programs, crafted forward-looking legislation, and promoted energy-savings targets that help unlock energy efficiency’s amazing potential. NGA’s new primer offers valuable insights that states and the federal government, too, can use, to learn from each other and accelerate the progress that energy efficiency brings.