Winners and Losers in U.S. Energy Efficiency

American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s state energy efficiency scorecard is out, and the winners remains winners while the losers are losing less. In other news, when you’re at the bottom of a planetary environmental crisis, there’s nowhere to go but up.

As expected, America’s top 10 energy-efficient states were Massachusetts, California, New York, Oregon, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Maryland and Illinois. They are mostly coastal or pastoral progressives with a finger on the pulse of climate change. Perhaps more surprising is that the predictably worst states in our nation — Wyoming, Arkansas, Mississippi and both Dakotas — are extraction industry dinosaurs reportedly trying to clean up their wasteful ways. That goes extra for my birth state of Mississippi, which has the weird distinction of being both the least energy-efficient state in our warming nation but also its most improved, according to ACEEE’s 2013 scorecard.

Like more and more of its fellow Southeast holdouts, Mississippi’s recently passed energy legislation has plans to strengthen the code of its commercial and state buildings, hopefully resituating efficiency at the center of its regional energy dialogue. But from first to worst, all of the our reportedly united states are going to need to seriously step up their collective games to catch up to present environmental needs.

“Efficiency isn’t always a simple message,” ACEEE analyst Annie Downs explained in an interview. “You can’t necessarily see it, like a wind turbine or a solar panel, so it may be a stretch for policy makers and regulators to see that it is a resource, a reliable, clean, cheap resource at that. In states with aging power plants, that means that citizens should really encourage their policy makers to invest in low-cost efficiency rather than building expensive new power plants. Even if you can’t see efficiency, the benefits are real.”

As the ACEEE scorecard takes pains to note, there are improvements afoot, even in the least-efficient states. They’re slowly making it easier for citizens to change their green games, even when some of their elected officials, and the utilities that donate to their campaigns, refuse to get in line.

“Folks can reach out directly to their utilities or they can take a look at Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) for a comprehensive listing of what’s offered within each state,” Downs explained. “We’re seeing programs ramp up all over the country. Mississippi and Louisiana both recently passed energy efficiency rules, and Arkansas has mandatory energy savings targets in place.”

Of course, as the scorecard implies, it’s easy to look busy when you decide to stop coming in last. Efficiency ramps in the Southeast and other regions awakening to efficiency as an economic development tool are a good start, but they remain a start. We need aggressive implementation of zero-net philosophy nationwide, like yesterday. Let’s hope every state gets on board with the science, which itself is coming from behind when it comes to global warming.

“If we make concerted, nationwide efforts to maximize energy efficiency potential, we could reduce our projected energy use in 2050 by anywhere from 40-60 percent,” said Downs, pointing to ACEEE’s 2012 study on long-term U.S. energy efficiency potential (PDF). “We’ve seen that states are really the innovators when it comes to policies and programs to promote energy efficiency: Twenty-five states have set mandatory energy savings targets, and this year seven states adopted the latest iteration of building energy codes. More and more are requiring building energy use disclosure and investing in programs to help consumers purchase efficient appliances and homes.”

“President Obama has set a goal of doubling energy productivity by 2030, and I think to do this, the Federal government will need to draw inspiration from states,” she concluded. “Many of these policies could be scaled up nationally. There are no shortage of good ideas around the country.”

This article appeared at Solar Energy