The U.S. made some big strides toward energy and fuel efficiency last year — or at least, its biggest states did, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).
Texas, Illinois and California, all among the country’s most populous states and its top polluters, were also all labeled as some of the most improved states in the U.S. in terms of energy efficiency policies in 2014, according to the ACEEE’s just-released policy scorecard. While Massachusetts topped the list — perhaps not surprising given that the state has held that position for five years straight now — other huge population centers passed legislation and enacted policies that should reduce energy demand, increase investments in renewables and improve efficiency, according to the report.
During a Wednesday conference call, ACEEE spokespeople and energy experts stressed that there are many reasons for states to enact policies and invest in energy efficiency — among them reduced power bills for citizens, lower greenhouse gas emissions and increase economic opportunites.
“Reducing load and reducing demand, especially helping us during our peak times in the cold winter months, really makes efficiency the first fuel for us [to achieve policy goals],” Matthew Beaton, secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said during the call.
The scorecard, which is in its ninth year, gave the top 10 rankings to:
The report takes into account a wide range of factors, including vehicle fuel efficiency standards, building efficiency targets, funding for efficiency programs, and the availability or absence of policies that actively work against energy efficiency.
For example, Texas doesn’t enforce efficiency programs for some electric customers.
“In Texas, for-profit customers that take electric service at the transmission level are not allowed to participate in utilities’ energy efficiency programming and therefore do not pay for it,” the report reads. “Instead, industrial customers develop their own energy efficiency plans if desired and work with third-party providers to implement and finance energy efficiency investments. There is no measurement or monitoring of the investments these large customers do or do not make.”
Still, the state showed improvement last year, the ACEEE concluded in its report. The organization ranked the state number 26 in the country, up from 34th place last year. It was the single biggest jump in the rankings, and due largely to its building energy efficiency policies. The state is working toward adopting the latest building codes while ramping up compliance efforts. Via a partnership with the South-Central Partnership for Energy Efficiency as a Resource, Texas has brought together stakeholders and launched compliance training.
It also made gains in the area of combined heat and power (CHP), a strategy where electricity generation systems harness the otherwise wasted heat given off during the generation process and use it for onsite needs like building heating. Texas added 525 megawatts of CHP capacity in 2014, more than any other state, according to the report.
Texas is the single largest greenhouse generator in the country, according to 2013 data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The state still ranks low in terms of investments in electricity and natural gas efficiency programs — 36th and 40th among the states, respectively.
In those areas, as well as others, the state still has a lot of room for improvement, according to lead report author Annie Gilleo.
“Texas was actually the first state to adopt energy savings targets, but they’re relatively low compared with other states,” she said during the call.
Another state the ACEEE highlighted as making big improvements was Illinois, which has launched initiatives to increase CHP projects both last year and this year. The state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity kicked off a pilot program in 2014 to provide incentives for CHP, while the largest utility in the state began offering incentive packages of up to $25,000 for feasibility and interconnection studies.
Illinois also gained points in the ACEEE ranking system for strengthening energy efficiency standards for utilities through its procurement plans, as well as for movement toward adopting the latest building codes.
Though California remained at second place in the organization’s rankings, it was still highlighted as being one of the most improved. The state has implemented a number of policies, including a cap-and-trade program that puts a limit on business’ allowed greenhouse gas emissions, which in many cases lead the nation in stringency. The state, home to several auto manufacturing facilities, is requiring auto companies to produce more zero-emission vehicles and has provided funding for schools to develop energy efficiency projects.
Clifford Rechtschaffen, Gov. Jerry Brown’s climate advisor, took an opportunity during the conference call to light-heartedly spar with a Massachusetts state representative about California’s second-place ranking. After Beaton quoted the New England Patriots’ head coach and referred to the team’s recent Super Bowl win, Rechtschaffen quoted a baseball legend who led the Red Sox rival Yankees to many a World Series title.
“As Yogi Berra said … wait 'til next year,” Rechtschaffen said during the conference call.
Perhaps that’s because of an ambitious climate package the Legislature passed and Brown signed this month. The package includes Senate Bill 350, which doubled the state’s building energy efficiency standards while calling for half of its power to come from renewable sources by 2050. Brown also signed Assembly Bill 802, which made California the first state in the nation to not only open up whole-building energy usage data to building owners, but make that data available to the public as well — a move meant to show prospective tenants how much their power bill would be, increasing competition among owners and operators.
Rechtschaffen also pointed out a piece of the report that identified California as a historical leader in setting a high bar on energy policies. Some of those policies have gone on to become federal standards, like appliance efficiency requirements.
“Those savings have, in some ways, dwarfed the savings from standards in other states,” Rechtschaffen said.
The scorecard comes as the U.S. as a whole makes a push for not only energy efficiency, but also greenhouse gas emission reductions from all sources ahead of the 21st Conference of Parties summit in Paris in December. The summit will serve as a stage on which world leaders negotiate in hopes of striking up a universal accord on climate change through 2030. The U.S. document outlining its commitments for the conference sets the country’s goal as reducing greenhouse gas emissions to at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
A big part of the strategy in meeting that goal is the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The plan, announced in August, calls on states to devise a strategy to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. If they don’t, the EPA gets to come up with a plan for that state.
Either way, the plan comes down to individual states. Kathleen Hogan, deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency in the U.S. Department of Energy, recognized that during the call.
“It is the states that oversee many of the policies and programs that bring efficiency to our homes, our businesses and our industries,” she said.