Energy efficiency needs citizen and government support

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President,
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

It is a widely accepted truth to those who have paid attention to energy issues that our least cost energy option is to use less of it. Many of us were raised in homes where parents reminded us to turn off the lights and put on a sweater if cold and expected us to wake up to a cold home in the morning and dress appropriately for the walk to school.

While such practices can save money and resources there are limits to how far people will go to reduce energy consumption. With cultural changes what was acceptable in earlier generations shocks the youth of today. A student recently called questioning whether we expected him to take the scheduled tour of our solar energy installations as the outdoor temperature was 25 degrees Fahrenheit. We were nonplussed by the question as we spend a substantial portion of each day outside and simply dress appropriately for the weather.

Once energy efficient behavioral practices are in place the focus shifts to spending money to reap the savings of investing in energy efficiency. If enough people invest in energy efficiency far fewer power plants, grid expansions and upgrades will be needed saving customers money, reducing air and water pollution, curbing climate change and stimulating jobs.

Unfortunately customers often want to spend money on other things today making them less likely to invest in efficiency. Widely advertised and glamorized options are more likely to be purchased than the well reasoned investment in energy efficiency which benefits the consumer, society and the planet.

Experience indicates that many individuals do not make good economic decisions as witnessed by their high level of debt and frequent bankruptcies. Since energy efficiency investments provide citizens with increased comfort and lower energy costs while providing society with more jobs than other alternatives, federal and state policies should provide citizens with incentives toward that end.

Energy efficiency investments require specialized information, training, experience and continuing education to keep up with the costs and performance features of new technologies. Many efficiency improvements can be made based on reading labels when buying new appliances and following governmental guidelines on efficiency upgrades to the home.

While reducing energy consumption benefits consumers, society and the planet, it does not benefit some energy producers who are waging a vigorous national and global campaign to eliminate policies that hurt their earnings and enact those that improve their profits.

Legislation by Texas Rep. Michael Burgess, H.R. 117 was recently introduced before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce to repeal parts of existing federal legislation known as the Energy and Conservation Act. It requires appliances such as washers, refrigerators and microwaves to meet efficiency standards which cut energy consumption. If implemented, the Act would forbid state or federal agencies from putting requirements into action to comply with standards for energy conservation or efficiency impacting an appliance. The Citizens Utility Board is advising citizens to urge their legislators to defeat this legislation.

Marketplace euphoria is misplaced when energy prices fail to include environmental, health and social costs of their consumption to maximize profits.

Both ComEd and Ameren have suggestions and incentives on their websites to encourage more energy efficiency practices for their customers. For more information on this visit citizensutilityboard.org, comed.com, and ameren.com.

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