A bit earlier today, an important new study by Duke University and the Georgia Institute of Technology was released. The report is entitled, Southeast Energy Efficiency Study: Energy Efficiency in the South, and it confirms what I’ve been saying for years now: energy efficiency is by far and away the “lowest hanging fruit” of any energy source. To put it another way, energy efficiency gives us the biggest energy bang for the buck, far more than nuclear power (one of the worst in terms of “bang for the buck”) or “clean coal” (highly speculative and extremely expensive), for example. How much “bang for the buck” we can get from energy efficiency is made clear in this report, including the section specifically on Virginia.
*”The policies analyzed in the report offer the potential to reduce Virginia’s total energy consumption in all three sectors by approximately 7% in 2020 and 12% in 2030.”
*”This avoided consumption is equivalent to about 5 power plants in 2020.”
*”Efficiency policies in Virginia will create jobs, spur significant economic growth and save consumers and businesses billions of dollars” (“38,000 jobs in Virginia in 2030”, “Save more than $3.5 billion in 2020 and $6.3 billion in 2030”).
*”These savings amount to the equivalent of the energy required by about 4,600 Wal-Mart stores and roughly $80,000 in annual energy savings per business in 2020.”
*”These savings amount to the equivalent of the energy required by about 320,000 Virginian households and about $325 in annual energy savings per household in 2020.”
To put it another way, as David Roberts of Grist points out, “for every dollar the South invests in energy efficiency, it will receive an average of $2.25 in benefits over the next 20 years in jobs, economic growth, and lower bills.”
This is a no-brainer, right? Right. So, why are we wasting our time talking about idiocy like “drill baby drill” when we could be jump-starting an energy efficiency revolution here in Virginia? Let me quote David Roberts again:
Here we return to the single biggest factor in the South’s energy intransigence: the energy companies that dominate it are not participants in a competitive market. Most of the region’s utilities are regulated monopolies, which means their customers and their profits are guaranteed by law. They don’t compete; they manage state regulators, which is a whole different kind of skill. They are involved in cozy, good ol’ boy relationships with those regulators that in some cases stretch back generations. They have their way of doing things and it works for them. Why would they want change?
In particular, regulated monopoly utilities have one way to make more money: build more power plants and sell more power. They convince regulators to offer a set return on capital, and then they deploy the capital to get the return. So all that decreased consumption? All those savings on power bills? All those avoided power plants? That’s all bad news for southern utilities. It translates directly into lost revenue for them.
All of this is exactly why we don’t want Dominion Power writing our state’s energy policy and ruling out a serious push for energy efficiency. This is also exactly why we need to tell Dominion that we’re “decoupling” them, whether they like it or not. The problem is that Dominion’s in the driver’s seat (they profit, we’re screwed), and they spend a ton of money on advertising, lobbyists, and buying our politicians to keep it that way.
What can we do to change this situation? First and foremost, we can demand from our lawmakers, both state and federal, that they implement policies that strongly incentivize energy efficiency and dis-incentivize more dirty power production. Call Mark Warner. Call Jim Webb. Call your Congressman. Call your state senator and delegate. Let them know that you’ve read this study, that you want its recommendations implemented, and specifically that you want your “$325 in annual energy savings per household.”