Originally posted by Energy Central


March 22, 2006 | By Stephen Heins

We applaud the leadership of Senator Rob Cowles and Assemblyperson Phil Montgomery as they have marshaled the recommendations of Gov. Doyle’s Task Force on Energy Efficiency and Renewables into a very robust energy bill, with a portfolio of short-term, mid-term and long-term solutions designed to slow the need for new power plants in Wisconsin. The bill, SB459, is one of the best and most balanced approaches of any state in the U.S.

It is worth mentioning that energy issues are just as important nationally as they are to Wisconsin. In fact, there have been several articles discussing energy legislation, energy policy, energy security, and energy efficiency published recently in such major-media outlets as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.

The problem with most of these articles is that they are little more than political diatribes from both the right and the left at a time when we need solutions rather than rhetoric. With that in mind, I would like to advocate energy efficiency as a politically neutral measure that can be an immediate and cost-effective piece of the energy equation.

Energy efficiency has become the Rodney Dangerfield of energy solutions – it gets no respect. For example, while one can agree with Tom Friedman of The New York Times when he says that greater energy efficiency and conservation are “actually the most tough-minded, geostrategic, pro-growth and patriotic thing[s] we can do,” one cannot help but notice that he is talking about oil, with renewables and electricity generation being only an afterthought.

In the same vein, one can agree with George Melloan of The Wall Street Journal when he states that our “dilemma would not have occurred had it not been for years of energy and environmental policies guided by an unfounded assumption that natural-resource development and protection of the environment are incompatible.” But we still notice that he, too, is writing primarily about oil or nuclear power plants.

Clearly, energy efficiency is worth a more comprehensive examination by the media, and by all of us. Of all the options for electric generation, including current, new, and renewable technologies, only energy efficiency can truly proclaim that it is the cleanest, cheapest, and most readily available source of new electricity. From high-efficiency lighting and energy-efficient heating and air-conditioning, which currently account for 80 percent of all attainable industrial energy efficiency, to other emerging technologies, the effect of market-based conservation and energy-efficiency initiatives would be immense.

Electricity and oil are, of course, not synonymous. However, they are closely related. Energy efficiency and conservation can certainly help us become less dependent on oil in everything from cars to oil-powered generators. But efficiency can play a much greater economic role while we reduce our oil dependency.

According to a recent study of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), “The Technical, Economic and Achievable Potential for Energy Efficiency in the United States: A Meta-Analysis of Recent Studies,” a 24-percent reduction of all electricity usage can be achieved in the U.S. This translates to potential savings of as many as 100,000 megawatts of electricity – enough energy to power 10 million homes in perpetuity.

In addition, the ACEEE has conservatively estimated that energy-efficiency initiatives could deliver $30 billion per year in energy savings to U.S. consumers and businesses. In particular, the business community is best positioned to have a large effect on the economics of energy and the environment, because they use approximately 70 percent of all electricity produced in the U.S.

In practical terms, this means that the business community can employ large-scale energy efficiencies that would have the same effect as reducing the entire energy consumption of whole towns and cities, or, more critically, reduce the need for as many as 200 new power plants. In terms of economic development, the business community could save at least $20 billion per year by employing existing methods of energy efficiency.

Justin Blum of The Washington Post correctly states that energy use and efficiency regulations “are not necessarily partisan.” The same can be said for the application of energy-efficient technologies. At the end of the day, good energy policy is a bipartisan opportunity, with much good work still to be done.

This includes solid, thoughtful reporting and legislation on the subjects of oil, electricity, and the curative effect of energy efficiency.