Regional Investment in Energy Efficiency: Good for the Economy and the Environment

Feb 22, 2013
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DCgreenbuilding

Nicole Steele Alliance Commission on National Energy Efficiency Policy
& Julia Allman Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments

It’s long been said that the cleanest cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use. And consuming less energy doesn’t mean sacrificing comfort or holding back economic growth. On the contrary when we improve our energy productivity we are able to produce more goods and services using less energy. It saves money adds jobs and cuts waste giving us more bang for our energy buck.

According to a new report by the Alliance Commission on National Energy Efficiency Policy doubling U.S. energy productivity by 2030 will increase economic output by up to 2% create 1.3 million jobs and save households over a thousand dollars a month all while cutting carbon emissions by a third.

The Commission hosted by the Alliance to Save Energy is comprised of efficiency experts from across industry academia government and non-profits and headed by Sen. Mark Warner and National Grid president Tom King. They released the report Energy 2030 earlier this month.

The Commission’s plan to double U.S. energy productivity includes recommendations for all levels of government and industry to make more efficient use of our energy resources. To achieve this ambitious goal the Commission urges us to invest modernize and educate—and metropolitan Washington is on its way to doing just that.

Investment

There are huge opportunities to save energy across all sectors of the economy but barriers to large-scale investment keep these savings from being realized. One of the Council of Governments’ top legislative priorities for the year is to enable new finance mechanisms that unlock the potential for investment in home and commercial building energy efficiency retrofits.

A major obstacle among homeowners is that current finance offerings don’t allow the owner to transfer the loan if they move. It’s understandable that someone would think twice about undertaking a big retrofit project if they could be stuck with the bill even after they sell the house. Mechanisms such as On Bill Finance or Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans seek to address this issue.

Modernization

Modernizing land use plans building codes and infrastructure will deeply transform the way we use energy. One of the Commission’s recommendations is to develop integrated regional plans that align transportation funding with local land use plans to encourage transit-oriented mixed-use communities.

This is precisely what metropolitan Washington is working toward with Region Forward. In updating the Activity Center Map the Region Forward Coalition identified areas slated for growth by local governments and integrated these plans into a regional vision for a more accessible sustainable prosperous and livable region.

The vision recognizes that increasing opportunities for walking biking and taking transit for everyday trips doesn’t just reduce the energy it takes to get from A to B but makes for vibrant streets that support local economies and improve quality of life. Walkable communities are also more resilient to economic shifts and less vulnerable to increasing gas prices.

Education

When it comes to education the Commission recognizes that the first step in making smarter energy choices is based on knowing how much energy you use. More effective energy ratings for commercial and residential buildings consistent labeling for appliances and vehicles and increased access to energy use data make the consumer better able to make informed purchases.

Through the climate action planning process the Council of Governments is developing recommendations for local governments to lead the way in tracking and disclosing building energy use. Putting these recommendations into practice is a first step in bringing the region’s business community on board to spur better energy management and efficiency investments.

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