Energy Efficiency Push Survives State Budget Crunch
By Jim Malewitz, Staff Writer
The $5 billion federal Home Star program, or "Cash for Caulkers" as most people referred to the plan to incentivize home energy savings, met a slow death last session on Capitol Hill. But that didn't keep at least one state from quickly crafting a plan of its own.
"States aren't waiting for Washington," said Steve Nadal, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, at a press conference Thursday (October 20) announcing the release of the group's 2011 State Energy Efficient Scorecard . Funded largely by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, the report ranks the 50 states and the District of Columbia on energy performance.
Despite crunched budgets, states spent $4.5 billion on energy efficiency projects in 2010 — up from $3.4 billion in 2009, according to the council. Congress spent significantly less.
"Clearly 2011 has not been kind to our economy, but energy efficiency is a growth sector," said Michael Sciortino, the report's lead author.
One state that took advantage of that is Maryland, which decided in January to use $1 million in federal stimulus money to give sizable rebates to those who seal or insulate their homes. Even before that, Maryland's effort to reduce home energy consumption saved about $117 million last year, said Malcolm Woolf, the state's Energy Administration director. That drastically decreased demand, sparing residents from the blackouts that hit neighboring District of Columbia in summer 2010.
Maryland is just one of many states that took matters of energy efficiency into their own hands, while bickering in Congress has stalled such federal efforts, say energy officials and policy researchers. During 2010, every state improved its average performance across the six categories of energy efficiency measured in the report.
One of the largest collective improvements came through changes in building codes, which make up about 15 percent of energy savings potential. Twenty-nine states have now adopted or made significant progress towards codes that require new homes and commercial properties to be energy efficient, the report says.
The report notes that 24 states have now have set long-term energy savings goals. States that adopted such policies a few years ago have passed others in the rankings. That was the case for Michigan, which met energy reduction goals set in 2008 while becoming a leader in developing energy-efficient technology. It realized the biggest efficiency gains, moving up to 17 in the rankings — 10 spots higher than it ranked in the council's 2010 report .
States such as California, Maryland, Massachusetts and Washington have seen the biggest improvements in energy-efficient transportation, but the report notes that more than half of states still have minimal or no transportation policies at all.
For the first time in the five-year history of the report, California was unseated from the top slot, moving to second place in overall ranking. It yielded to Massachusetts, which jumped ahead primarily because of its adoption of advanced building codes and land-use policies. Massachusetts and California were followed in the rankings by New York and Oregon. Maryland for the first time cracked the top 10.
States receiving the worst overall ratings were Kansas, Mississippi, Wyoming and North Dakota.