The premise that energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions is both well-founded and far from being a “free lunch” as the My View by Kenneth W. Costello (“There’s no free lunch with energy efficiency,” April 21) stated. To compare utility and state energy efficiency programs to a bogus free lunch is an insult that ignores facts, a common practice these days.
The International Energy Agency considers energy efficiency to be the largest contributor to the Paris climate targets. Forty-four percent of greenhouse gas emissions reductions come from efficiency. A recent National Resource Defense Council study found energy efficiency could reduce U.S. energy demand by 40 percent. State and utility efficiency programs are key efforts at achieving those potentials, including House Bill 291, which the referenced letter derides.
Many efficiency initiatives are under attack. Trump administration proposals would roll back average vehicle fuel consumption standards, rescind standards for lightbulbs and cut federal budgets for retrofitting buildings to high efficiency standards. These attacks are politically and not scientifically based.
Most of us have not implemented all the cost-effective energy efficiency measures we could — not because we are incapable of making sound cost-benefit calculations but because we don’t have the time and energy to do that. Other life issues take precedence. That is why utility and state programs make good sense.
These programs have been rigorously developed and yield positive, often very large, benefits. Programs provide an incentive for us to get rid of that old clunker beer cooler in the garage. They help us make wise decisions for our home, our vehicles, our businesses. Those decisions save us money, help the planet and lower utility costs long term. They reduce generation requirements, carbon emissions and, ultimately, the utility rates we pay.
The Costello letter referred to “free riders,” those who participate in a program when they would have implemented the targeted energy efficiency anyway, implying that they make programs not cost-effective. Yes, there are free riders. But they make up a small percentage of participants, the costs of their participation have been rigorously factored in and the programs are still cost effective. They still save money for consumers, the utility and the ratepayers. Why? Because they allow the utility over time to serve more customers who use less energy on average with less generation. Fewer kilowatts of energy are used. Fewer megawatts of generation are required. They reduce the need for building more plants or solar or wind farms. Utility rates would be significantly higher if no efficiency programs were in place.
SWEEP, the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, estimated that households and businesses in the Southwest between 2005 and 2017 saved more than $7 billion as a result of utility energy efficiency programs, and power plant carbon emissions were cut by over 80 million metric tons. Any way you look at it, those are big numbers. And these savings continue into the future. The effects of efficiency programs are big and they are real.
So check out those state and utility programs. There are likely actions we all can take that will save us money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve water and energy, and be good for the planet. Your participation will also help keep rates low for other ratepayers. And you may even get good feelings about using less energy and doing your bit to be part of the climate solution.
Claire Fulenwider, Ph.D., is former executive director the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, a retired USAID and utility consultant, and former vice president of planning and development for Alliant Energy. She moved to Santa Fe in 1998.