Efforts to boost energy efficiency during the COVID-19 pandemic: Part 2

State initiatives to reduce energy waste.

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Brynn Furey
Energy Conservation & Efficiency, Associate

Author: Brynn Furey

Energy Conservation & Efficiency, Associate

Started on staff: 2020
B.S., Georgetown University

Brynn leads The Cleanest Energy Campaign for Environment America, working to convince states to pass laws to improve energy efficiency and provide citizens with actions to take at home and in their communities. Brynn grew up in South Florida and now lives in Connecticut. She loves long-distance runs, stand up comedy and all things pop culture.

Our energy conservation and efficiency intern Olivia LaRoche writes about state efforts to boost efficiency and save energy across the country. 

Welcome back to our journey through the exciting world of energy efficiency policy. This issue remains relevant as over the past nine months, U.S. energy waste has skyrocketed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Everyday practices during this period, like keeping office buildings running with barely anyone inside them could effectively double their energy consumption. Fortunately, many decision-makers across the country are forging ahead with energy efficiency initiatives that can give us hope for a cleaner and less wasteful future. My goal is to highlight those policies.

In my first blog, I focused on local initiatives to boost energy efficiency -- from the District of Columbia to Oakland, California. 

In this blog, I discuss state level energy efficiency policies. Elected leaders in such states as Utah, Nevada, California and Maine are working diligently to address this issue. Some have already passed laws, while others are still exploring opportunities to reduce energy waste.

Efficiency standards for appliances and utilities

Nevada joined the energy efficiency train when the state adopted minimum standards for light bulbs over the summer. Starting in 2021, energy-efficient LED and CFL light bulbs will replace inefficient incandescents and halogens in the marketplace. These new bulbs have longer lifetimes and deliver significant energy savings, lowering emissions and costs for residents, businesses and the state overall. 

Moving south, Florida presents a unique opportunity to significantly increase energy efficiency at the state level as the Public Service Commission (PSC) revisits its rulemaking process. The PSC sets Florida’s efficiency standards -- which haven’t been updated in more than 30 years. The states’ antiquated economic screening practices mean that utilities often consider energy savings as a cost rather than a benefit. This leads to programs that waste energy, increase emissions and raise utility costs for Floridians. Although the PSC is revising it, their current proposal would lock these energy-wasting policies in, but not before hearing comments from the public first. 

In Massachusetts, an appliance standards bill that should have represented progress was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Baker a couple of weeks ago. The bill would have required energy efficient upgrades for 17 different products, including commercial cooking equipment, household faucets and computers. It was part of a larger climate and clean energy package that aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lower utility bills and conserve water in the state. Despite the veto from Beacon Hill, the bill will live to fight in another legislative session as policymakers quickly reintroduced it, voted to pass it and landed it right back on Gov. Baker’s desk. 

By 2025, appliance efficiency standards in Massachusetts would reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions equal to taking 24,000 cars off of the road. Part of the Massachusetts appliance standards flip book. By Graham Marema.

Building efficiency standards

In July, California added an appendix to its building energy code that rewards the use of smart energy-efficient electric heat pump water heaters. This policy is a big win for California, since gas water heaters are the biggest sources of energy waste and pollution in the state. Electric water heaters can be powered by clean renewable energy sources, leading to a significant cut in home pollution, energy use and residents’ utility bills. Currently, the policy only applies to new construction, but the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is working to expand financial incentives to existing buildings. 

New York officials have also been hard at work promoting building energy efficiency. This year, the state created a new stretch energy code called NYStretch, which raises energy efficiency standards for new and renovated buildings. Under the policy, windows, air leakage testing, insulation and ventilation must all meet higher energy-saving requirements. Developments like this are key if the state is to reach its 2019 goal of an 85 percent reduction in greenhouse gas over the next 30 years. NYStretch will not only be good for the environment, but it will also reduce operational costs and save property owners’ money on utility bills over time. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) currently offers technical information and assistance for those who want to adopt the code and embrace a cleaner and more cost-effective future. 

In the West, Utah passed the Voluntary Home Energy Information Pilot Program in August. The bill is a landmark in energy efficiency legislation for the state. It contains both a home energy information pilot program and a home energy performance score system. The goal of the program is to collect and share information about energy and cost savings along with air quality impacts in the home to empower homeowners to ask about energy efficiency upgrades. Participating homeowners are eligible to receive reimbursements for having an energy assessment and a performance report on their homes. The law will be implemented this year and will hopefully inspire more state action on energy efficiency.

Electrification

In December, Maine announced its Climate Action Plan. It was created by the state’s Climate Council in an effort to reduce the effects of climate change in Maine and spur the state’s growing clean energy economy. The plan aims to install 100,000 electric residential heat pumps statewide in five years. Mainers can hit the ground running with this as some rebates for electric heat pumps are already available through Efficiency Maine. But goals like these will require even more incentive plans and code re-evaluations for homes and businesses to adopt more energy efficient appliances and practices. 

States are crucial for moving forward on energy efficiency policy, and their action will remain a vital piece to achieving a 100 percent clean energy future. To push the needle on energy efficiency we must do our part as citizens to stand up for energy efficiency in our states and advocate for the policies we deserve.

Next: President Biden’s Clean Energy Plan and the future of U.S. energy efficiency policy

Brynn Furey
Energy Conservation & Efficiency, Associate

Author: Brynn Furey

Energy Conservation & Efficiency, Associate

Started on staff: 2020
B.S., Georgetown University

Brynn leads The Cleanest Energy Campaign for Environment America, working to convince states to pass laws to improve energy efficiency and provide citizens with actions to take at home and in their communities. Brynn grew up in South Florida and now lives in Connecticut. She loves long-distance runs, stand up comedy and all things pop culture.