Many Americans make sure to turn off the lights when they leave home, which is a good idea considering rising energy costs. What they might not consider, however, is that many of the electronic items still plugged in use energy even when they're turned off. This may not seem like a big deal, but it adds up, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which reported that these idle electronic household items use 5 percent of our domestic energy and cost consumers more than $3 billion per year.

Using energy-efficient electronics is one option, but there are many other ways to reduce energy consumption, which has state policymakers searching for the best solutions. As energy costs continue to rise, state governments search for energy efficiency policies that drive down costs without sacrificing energy benefits.

A Place to Turn

The Alliance to Save Energy -- a nonprofit coalition of business leaders, consumer leaders, environmental nonprofit organizations and government entities working together to promote energy efficiency worldwide -- created an online resource for state policymakers to research energy efficiency policies enacted on a statewide level.

This resource -- the State Energy Efficiency Index -- can be found through the alliance Web site.

"It's a one-stop option for energy efficiency advocates, companies and legislators who are interested in learning about what's already on the books," said Anna Carmichael, senior policy associate of the alliance.

Initially the alliance created a newsletter to highlight pending state energy efficiency legislation. With the information gathered for the newsletter, and the constant evolving status on legislation, it became apparent that a database would really help to sort the information and present it in an organized and timely manner.

"We get questions all the time from reporters and our associate companies asking what states have standards, what states have building codes," said Carmichael. "So it just made sense to put all of the information in one place."

The index organizes policy information into categories by policy topic, including appliance standards, building codes, greenhouse gas emission cap-and-trade programs, energy-efficiency funds, public benefit funds, tax incentives, transportation initiatives and other legislation.

Policies are also searchable by state. An interactive map of the United States allows users to click on any state to get a listing of energy-efficiency laws in effect for that state.

"It's a resource for legislators to think of new ideas for their own particular state. They can see what their neighbors are doing and they can look on their state page to see what they're missing," said Carmichael.

With a tracking system called NetScan, a search tool for finding information on the Internet, the alliance gathers information on new state energy-efficiency policies to update the index. Carmichael said the alliance also has contacts in the states, particularly in state energy offices, who e-mail policy updates that may have been missed.

Model Legislation

To help states that aren't sure which energy-efficiency policies to implement, the alliance plans to recommend model legislation that encompasses best practices across the nation.

"Of course, any sort of legislative staff can go through legislation from other states and sort of create their own," said Carmichael. "But sometimes it's helpful to have a group like the alliance that has connections with businesses and other public interest groups, can look through the legislation and talk with people on the ground in those states to see which pieces have really worked well."

She said a third-party perspective can be helpful for states who want to look at potential policy from the consumer, business and legislative points of view. Classifying a best-case example allows states to benefit from the different perspectives the alliance investigates.

The State Energy Efficiency Index is an evolving compilation of data, and the alliance welcomes any input. "We want to work with other organizations to make this a collaborative process," Carmichael said.

Sherry Watkins  |  Contributing Writer