The Times West Virginian

October 7, 2012

West Virginia has opportunities to do better in energy-efficiency practices

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, West Virginia has many opportunities for improvement in its practices in energy efficiency.

On Oct. 3, ACEEE officially released its 2012 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard and held a live news event in Washington, D.C., and telephone conference to announce the findings.

This report ranks the efforts of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., to implement energy-efficiency policies and programs as of September 2012.

West Virginia is listed among the 10 states most in need of improvement. In addition to West Virginia, the other states cited as having the most opportunities for improvement are Mississippi, North Dakota, Wyoming, South Dakota, Alaska, Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana and Nebraska.

The study, which is the sixth edition, looks at six policy areas related to energy efficiency, including utility and public benefits programs and policies, transportation policies, building energy codes, combined heat and power policies, state government-led initiatives around energy efficiency, and appliance and equipment standards.

Ben Foster, ACEEE senior policy analyst and lead author of the State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, said this report serves as a benchmark for energy policies and encourages states to continue strengthening their efforts for efficiency.

Some of the states surrounding West Virginia have moved up significantly in recent years, which has made West Virginia dip below, he said. Comparatively, West Virginia didn’t do a lot in the last year to improve its energy efficiency and was surpassed by some other states.

West Virginia has been at the bottom of the scorecard for the last couple of years, but there are a couple of pretty big opportunities for the state to improve, Foster said.

While plans for utility efficiency programs have been submitted to the state’s public utilities commission, ACEEE isn’t sure if those have been implemented yet or if savings have resulted. West Virginia has been working on building energy codes, but Foster believes there is a lot of opportunity to adopt more stringent building codes that would save quite a bit of energy and make people more comfortable in their homes.

Another area of opportunity for West Virginia is in combined heat and power systems, which are a more efficient way of producing electricity and heat, and the policies that support those, he said. For the use of these systems to become widespread, several regulatory barriers must be overcome and policy changes must take place.

“The only way to go is up,” Foster said. “We have recently been in dialogues with some folks in West Virginia. We do studies in specific states.”

He said ACEEE looks forward to learning more about what is happening in West Virginia and determining ways to help the state improve its energy-efficiency policies and programs.

“Nationwide, energy efficiency continues to be a growth industry,” Foster said.

Energy efficiency is a resource that is cheaper, quicker to deploy and cleaner than building a new energy supply. The efficient use of energy creates much-needed jobs and reduces environmental impacts, Foster said.

He emphasized how actions at the state level have advanced energy efficiency and will continue to improve it. Many states have strengthened or renewed energy plans and will increase funding for energy-efficiency programs.

“Really the states are the proving ground for energy-efficiency policies and programs,” Foster said. “Energy efficiency is really a resource that is available in all states. Being able to capture that is a function of putting in place the right kind of policies and getting the business community excited about it.”

ACEEE Executive Director Steve Nadel said Congress hasn’t been doing a lot to encourage energy efficiency in the economy’s different sectors. But the states have really stepped out into the lead in terms of energy efficiency, and people are making programs and policies work at the state level.

These efforts are happening in a bipartisan way, with both Democrats and Republicans involved. Even when people may disagree about other issues, promoting energy efficiency as a way to reduce waste is something that everybody can support, Nadel said.

This year’s top-ranked states in energy efficiency are Massachusetts, California, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Washington, Maryland and Minnesota. Massachusetts retained the top spot in the scorecard for the second year in a row.

Barbara Kates-Garnick, Massachusetts energy undersecretary, said every state is trying to come up with strategic ways to increase energy efficiency, and Massachusetts is honored to be No. 1 in energy efficiency based on ACEEE’s scorecard.

“Energy efficiency is an important national policy,” she said. “I am proud to say that Massachusetts continues to dig deeper.”

The state has continued to take steps to incorporate energy efficiency into its energy policy. Its three-year efficiency plans are under way with its utilities and are providing considerable savings. Massachusetts is exploring new ways to reduce greenhouse gases and make buildings and vehicles more efficient through its Green Communities Act of 2008, Kates-Garnick said.

“We’ve embraced energy efficiency in a number of ways,” she said. “The bottom line for us is we need careful planning and implementation. These goals really are what is driving us to move in the direction of energy efficiency.”

Energy efficiency provides a better quality of life and financial savings, Kates-Garnick said. The clean energy industry in Massachusetts has seen a big increase in jobs. The state has worked to find partners in all sectors of the economy.

“We’re very excited, but we also recognize the challenges that we have in front of us,” she said.

The states that showed the most improvement in energy efficiency are Oklahoma, Montana, South Carolina, Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Oklahoma moved up eight spots in the ranking this year.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said she truly believes that some of the best innovation comes from the states, public policy leaders and private companies. During her year-and-a-half in office, one of her focuses has been on making government more efficient.

Oklahoma had fallen behind on energy efficiency and conservation and was ranked 47th in the nation last year in ACEEE’s scorecard. Fallin said she knew the state could do better, and Oklahoma set a goal to make improvements. The state doesn’t want to waste taxpayers’ money and wants to be a good steward of its natural resources.

A statewide comprehensive energy plan, including a section on what can be done to address energy efficiency and conservation, was developed. Oklahoma is proud to be one of the most improved states in the nation in the scorecard this year, she said.

Fallin said the state put tax credits in place to help with energy-efficient construction and has made great strides in energy efficiency within state office buildings and institutions.

“We’re excited about what we’re doing,” she said.

“It is also a big wakeup call, and it’s an indication (of what) we can all do together if we learn from one another,” Gina McCarthy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, said of the scorecard.

This report creates friendly competition between the states, she said.

McCarthy said energy efficiency practices can help a state’s bottom line as well as the people it serves. Everyone is starting to understand the seriousness of the energy problems that the country is facing.  

“It is an issue that is becoming of ultimate importance throughout the nation, and we’re pleased about that,” she said.

Energy efficiency saves customers money on their energy bills, reduces pollution and prevents the need to generate energy that causes pollution that can be a hazard to people’s health. The EPA is making sure to provide room to encourage energy efficiency and has been structuring its policies accordingly, McCarthy said.

She said the EPA recognizes that the states are driving these efforts, and partnership becomes the key. The agency’s Energy Star Program, which is celebrating its 20th year, has been a great success.

“As we recognize the great successes of the past year, let’s also say that the race is on,” said Kathleen Hogan, U.S. Department of Energy deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency.

This is a very exciting time to be looking ahead, as energy efficiency remains a largely untapped energy resource that offers tremendous opportunities to businesses and consumers in the country, she said. Energy efficiency creates well-paying domestic jobs, increases the competitiveness of industry, makes operations cleaner and saves consumers money.

The states are places of great innovation as they deal with energy issues in their own economies, which is why it’s so important to recognize the progress the states are making, Hogan said.

The Department of Energy follows Congress’ energy efficiency standards. She said the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has done a lot for energy efficiency.

Hogan said the department will continue to work with organizations to find out the lessons they have learned and the improvements they have made, and has been partnering with about half of the states to help them in a number of ways. It is involved in a better buildings initiative to improve the efficiency of homes and commercial and industrial buildings.

For more information or to access the full 2012 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, go online to aceee.org.

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.