Monday, April 21, 2008

Energy Efficiency - "You'll see your bill go down"

Notice the word "conservation" is rarely used anymore when it comes to energy policy? It was a big buzzword back in 'da day - now it has been replaced by the word "efficiency", and it turns out this is a major component of the energy package passed by the House last week.

Want to stop more coal plants from being built? Besides installing a renewable portfolio standard, we must increase energy efficiency. Michigan is going to need at least one base load power plant by 2015, and given that building a nuclear plant generally can take longer than that, chances are it is going to be coal. Not many ways around it. At this point, renewables cannot fill that demand. We would be stuck buying energy from out-of-state, probably from their coal plants anyway.

If we don't install efficiency programs and the renewable standard and meet the goals of both, there is a chance that Michigan will need up to four base power plants by 2015 - and that will cost a fortune, as well as the cost of the damage to the environment.

The AP has a great story on the efficiency portion of this energy package - this doesn't get a lot of attention, but it is integral to keeping prices down and putting us on the path to clean energy as opposed to coal.

Did you buy your CFL bulbs yet?

As state lawmakers wrestle with how much more electricity Michigan will need in the future, many energy experts are saying: use less.

The potential savings from using less energy are enormous. For every $1 invested in more efficient lighting and appliances, $2 to $3 is saved down the road by avoiding or at least delaying the need to build new multibillion-dollar power plants.

Not to mention the savings that will come from investing in construction of power-efficient homes and buildings. Besides home consumer initiatives, this will cover business and construction as well.

This plan creates an independent body called the Michigan Energy Efficiency Program (MEEP) that will work with the Michigan Public Service Commission to evaluate and target the funds towards energy efficiency. It is expected to cost .50 to $1 a month per residential customer, as opposed to $3 - $4 a month that building a new power plant can require. Its goal will be education and help to the consumer, as well as rebates for becoming more energy efficient. How it will all work is still being discussed.

These are the things that can save us from building those coal plants - and the savings can be tremendous.

Stores could give customers instant rebates _ paid for by the utilities _ if they buy high-efficiency clothes washers, furnaces and compact fluorescent light bulbs. Utilities could help homeowners and businesses with insulation and weatherizing techniques.

Utilities would give customers information on how to reduce their electricity usage, because persuading people to use different light bulbs is as much about changing old habits as it's about overcoming price concerns, says Terry Mierzwa, manager of marketing and customer research for Jackson-based Consumers Energy, the state's second-largest utility.

"Awareness and education is first and foremost," Mierzwa says. "Some of these energy issues just aren't at the top of mind for people as they go about their day-to-day lives."

According to the federal government, if every home in the United States replaced just one incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent bulb, it would save enough power to light more than 3 million homes a year and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equaling the output of 800,000 cars.

Along with the renewable portfolio standard, this is expected to create thousands of jobs in the field as people will be looking towards purchasing energy efficient products for their homes or business, and that will create more demand in this rapidly growing market.

Republican Mike Nofs actually predicted that our bills will go down if this is enacted.

Rep. Mike Nofs, a Battle Creek Republican who worked on the House energy plan, says conserving energy would offset parts of the legislation that may raise rates.

"You'll see your bill go down," he says.

There's also a potential economic development benefit.

Angerer estimates the efficiency measure would create 8,000 jobs over five years because more money would go to stores, energy-saving auditors would be hired and businesses saving energy costs could invest in other things.

We can reduce the need for coal-fired plants if we follow this plan; it seems to be the only way we can do that at this point. Demand for electricity is going to increase, but we can do things in the meantime to curb that increase - and perhaps renewables will get to the point where they can handle the base load generation we need to keep running, and we won’t need to worry about coal ever again.

Eventually we can get away from fossil fuel use, but we need to start now with programs like this. If you want to read the whole House Energy Report, the .pdf is here. There is quite a bit here to wrap your mind around, but it seems that this is yet another case of how spending a little now will save us a lot in the long run. Not only do we get jobs and investment, we save the planet as well.

This should be a no-brainer. Let's hope the Senate Republicans see it the same way.