A Patchwork of Policy: The Low-Hanging Fruit of Energy Ignored

Energy, energy, energy. The US runs on a belief that massive amounts of energy must be needed for economic growth. However, Germany and other countries have shown that energy efficiency can break us out of this pattern.

We can slow down our voracious energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions rapidly. Although a good way would be to drastically change how we produce energy, the easy path of energy efficiency would take us much further.

So where’s the action happening?

Federal Level

The EPA has been pushing for the Clean Power Plan, which prioritizes energy efficiency in its language. States can shape their plan to put energy efficiency first. This has had a large impact on utilities.

Dr. Billy Pizer of Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions says that utility standards has been the realm of federal control.

As for the Department of Energy (DoE), it has been a major source of grants, policy, and incentives to help people save energy. EnergyStar, a program of DoE, has regulated the efficiency standards for appliances.

On the legislative side, Dr. Pizer  says the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 did a number of things for efficiency. It funded weatherization assistance for homeowners.

Grants were given to states, so the federal government was not doing it directly. States took care of the distribution of grant money.

State Level

Policy has shaped homeowners in a more direct fashion here at the state level. Dr. Pizer says that building codes for energy efficiency and homes has been done more at the local and state level. He says that California has had aggressive building codes.

Strong policy on energy efficiency on all sides has been spotty though.

Cost, Environmental Concerns, and Energy Security

According to Dr. Pizer, these sum up the reasons why states and local governments care about energy efficiency. The places with the strongest push for energy efficiency has been places like Hawaii or Alaska. Dr. Pizer says that since they are so isolated that energy is very expensive, maybe $0.50/kWh.

There’s motivation there to use what they have more wisely.

Local Level

Local or municipal level policy has been limited, outside of places like New York City, which has taken up pledges to reduce its environmental impact. Dr. Pizer says that one part of the puzzle that cities can address is transportation.

Complicating the picture is the development of suburbs, which exacerbates energy efficiency with higher transportation energy costs.

UC Berkeley has created interesting maps to visualize the energy use of US citizens down to the county and municipal level.

Click below to see how the energy usage is in your county.

Energy Use in Metropolitan Areas