By John Rogers
Autumn makes me think of leaves colored orange and amber and red, of the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg wafting from a range of desserts … and of states vying for top honors in the annual state ranking of energy efficiency policies and progress.
The leaves are mostly done, and the desserts are in my belly. But the latest ranking from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy is out and available, and ready for sampling. It's always a beautiful sight and a tasty treat.
Energy efficiency – Why and how?
Energy efficiency is already one of the main tools we use for meeting new energy demand. Why it makes sense as a tool is clear, as the new report says:
"[Energy efficiency] creates jobs, not only directly for manufacturers and service providers, but also indirectly in other sectors by saving energy and freeing up funds to support the local economy. Efficiency also reduces pollution, strengthens community and grid resilience, promotes equity, and improves health."
The annual scorecard "ranks states on their efficiency policies and programs, not only assessing performance but also documenting best practices and recognizing leadership." ACEEE does that by looking at a range of metrics that are shaped by each state's efforts:
- Utility and public benefits programs and policies
- Transportation policies
- Building energy codes and compliance
- Combined heat and power (CHP) policies
- State government–led initiatives around energy efficiency
- Appliance and equipment standards
Who's on top?
The highlighted states include some familiar faces plus a few new ones. The top states were the same in 2017 as in 2016, and highlighted the strong focus on efficiency in certain parts of the country:
- Massachusetts took the top spot for the seventh straight year, and stood alone at the top (after tying with California for 2016 honors). Northeast states also took third (Rhode Island), fourth (Vermont), sixth (Connecticut), and seventh (New York).
- The West Coast states garnered high marks, too, taking second (California), fifth (Oregon), and seventh (Washington).
- The Midwest also made a good showing, at ninth (Minnesota) and eleventh (Illinois and Michigan, tied).
ACEEE makes a point of calling out some "most improved" states, too, and this year that brought in states from other parts of the country:
- Idaho was the most most improved, jumping up seven spots and landing it in the middle of the pack—its best performance, says ACEEE, since 2012—due to investments in "demand-side management", increased adoption of electric vehicles, and building energy code improvements.
- Florida gained three spots in part due to its work on energy efficiency for the state's farmers.
- Its work to strengthen building energy codes in the state helped Virginia move up four notches.
How do states take it to the next level?
No state got a perfect score, ACEEE pointed out, so every state has room for improvement. Fortunately, they offer a few tips on how to make that happen:
- Establish and adequately fund an energy efficiency resource standard (EERS) or similar energy savings target.
- Adopt policies to encourage and strengthen utility programs designed for low-income customers, and work with utilities and regulators to recognize the non-energy benefits of such programs.
- Adopt updated, more stringent building energy codes, improve code compliance and involve efficiency program administrators in code support.
- Adopt California tailpipe emission standards and set quantitative targets for reducing VMT [vehicle miles travelled].
- Treat cost-effective and efficient CHP [combined heat and power] as an energy efficiency resource equivalent to other forms of energy efficiency.
- Expand state-led efforts—and make them visible.
- Explore and promote innovative financing mechanisms to leverage private capital and lower the up-front costs of energy efficiency measures.
But we're making progress, and leading states are demonstrating what a powerful resource energy efficiency is.
And with a federal administration that seems determined to move backward on clean air and water by propping up coal, and backward on climate action, that state action on clean energy is more important now than ever.
So congrats to the efficiency leaders among our states, and thanks.
John Rogers is a senior energy analyst with expertise in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and policies with the Union of Concerned Scientists.