Wednesday, April 02, 2008

How to Make a Difference

Through rebates and incentives designed to entice customers to use less energy, California utilities were able to stabilize energy demand while its population and economy grew by 79 percent.

"Energy-efficiency improvements remain the fastest, cheapest, cleanest energy resource," says Dr. Marilyn Brown of Georgia Tech. It's the low-hanging fruit in terms of what utilities, states and consumers can pluck to achieve conservation. Along with phasing out coal-fired power plants, it's one of the recommendations made by the EIP report's authors for what states can do to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

"Energy efficiency in buildings has got to be your top priority," says Dennis Creech, executive director of Southface. He says customers can build or invest in energy-efficient homes and cut their power bills by up to 40 percent. The improvements sometimes pay for themselves in savings in as little as two years.

One approach states can use is advocated by experts such as Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute: demand-side management, a fancy term that essentially means utilities, such as Georgia Power, offer customers a financial or tax incentive to reduce energy use. Consumers would pay less for energy, and energy providers would save money because the conservation would mean less need for new power plants.

"What we don't have is the public policy for energy efficiency or solar," Creech says. "A lot of states now are offering tax credits, and a lot of utilities are offering incentives for energy efficiency – significant incentives. If you look at New York and California, their energy use has stayed flat over the last 10-20 years. And why is that? It's because they've had significant investment in efficiency, primarily by the utilities industry."

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