The pending energy bill does too little to stimulate energy efficiency. According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), the bill ignores 75 percent of the possible savings that would help protect national security, restore electric system reliability, and lower energy bills.
While new appliance standards and tax incentives for combined heat and power systems and energy efficiency in commercial buildings are included, the bill fails to capture big savings from improved vehicle fuel economy and electrical efficiency.
During the energy crisis of the late 1970s, fuel economy standards helped curtail rising energy consumption and costs. A similar program could raise fuel economy standards from the current 27.5 mpg to 40 mpg by 2014. Annual incremental gains in fuel economy could eliminate oil imports from the Middle East, or drilling for new oil off U.S. coastal areas.
Drilling within the United States provides too little oil to significantly decrease our oil dependency. Continued dependency puts our troops at risk and threatens our economy with billions of dollars spent on oil imports and protecting supplies. Money saved though efficiency could create much needed jobs here.
While the bill does offer incentives to purchase hybrid electric cars, the only models in the marketplace are Japanese since American firms have delayed their plans. Additionally, tax breaks on $20,000 hybrids pale in comparison to the huge incentives provided for $100,000 gas-guzzling Hummers.
The bill also fails to set any efficiency goals for the electric industry or provide funding for other public benefits. As utilities have cut costs and laid-off workers, they have also cut funds to stimulate the efficient use of electricity.
Costing only 3 cents per kilowatt, electric energy efficiency is far less expensive than new power plants and lines or burning more fuel. Efficiency also generates more local jobs. Without incentives to sell efficiency, utilities sell more electricity. This market failure means that government action is essential to capture many of the benefits of efficiency.
The ACEEE study reports that natural gas prices would drop 20 percent within 12 months using efficiency and renewable sources of electricity since gas is frequently used to meet peak demands. For every dollar invested in the effort, $3.44 would be saved. Most of the money saved would be targeted at efficiency with about 25 percent for renewable sources of peak power.
A national energy performance standard would require retail electric services to implement energy-efficient practices to cut the equivalent of 1 percent of electrical use each year. While aggressive state programs can save money and clean up the air, a neighboring state without a program benefits without paying.
Illinois has a variety of energy efficiency programs for industry, businesses, communities and home owners that provide incentives and information for participants. The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity coordinates the programs. Their Web site is www.commerce.state.il.us.
Community-based energy programs are also worthwhile. Illinois PIRG has assembled a booklet encouraging locally owned renewable energy facilities, aggregate electricity loads, retrofitting government buildings, adopting energy-efficient building codes, upgrading street lights and traffic lights for efficiency, obtaining energy-efficient office equipment, and improving the fuel efficiency of city fleets. The booklet appears at www.illinoispirg.org.
Individuals can save electricity by insulating water heaters, setting them at 120o F, turning off lights, televisions and computers when not in use; replacing furnace filters at regular intervals; using appropriate insulation levels for attics, walls and basements or crawl spaces; replacing leaky windows or sealing the cracks; and setting the thermostat down at night or when out of the house for hours.
Ready to make some changes? Local building supply stores have the materials and information to help make your home more energy efficient.