Coming Together on Energy Efficiency

Many wild places The Wilderness Society is working the hardest to protect are areas near towns and cities that are ahead of the curve on the energy efficiency front.

Take Pitkin, Gunnison and Eagle counties near the Mount Massive Wilderness Area in Colorado. By working with organizations like the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE), thousands of businesses and residents in these counties have taken action to reduce energy use through innovative programs implemented at a local scale. What does this electricity savings translate to? Fewer new power plants and transmission lines across the land — by reducing demand for a new 1000 MW coal‐fired power plant, we can save roughly 23,500 acres from development.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending an event hosted by the Alliance to Save Energy — an organization that brings together businesses, government, environmental and consumer leaders around the common cause of energy efficiency “as a means to achieve a healthier economy, a cleaner environment and greater energy security.” Founded in 1977 by a bi-partisan group of Senators, the Alliance has been witness to a doubling of U.S. energy efficiency per GDP over the past 35 years, and that message of energy efficiency as a way to cut costs seems to have permeated some of the biggest utilities and Fortune 500 companies in America.

In light of our “almost do-nothing Congress,” this event was a CFL light bulb in the wilderness — bringing together business leaders and elected officials to suggest that when it comes to energy efficiency (as Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont put it) we should go from “politics to pragmatism.” Legislation such as the Shaheen-Portman Act — which enjoys the support of the National Association of Manufacturers, among others — would set new standards for existing energy efficiency technologies in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors of our economy. Leaders at the event including Senator Mark Warner and Thomas Kuhn, President of Edison Electric Institute, called it an easy bill to support. Why? Because energy efficiency just makes sense, whether you care about profit margins or wild places.

In fact, Cal Dooley of the American Chemistry Council suggested at yesterday’s event that it is imperative we reduce the pool of needed energy while debating how to transition away from fossil fuels. In some landscapes, this concept is taking hold. States near New England’s pristine Northern Forest—Vermont and Massachusetts — rank amongst the top five states in the county on ACEEE’s 2011 state annual scorecard on energy efficiency. These are steps in the right direction, but we can and should do more. To address global warming impacts on wild places, we will need new renewable power plants — and at TWS we are working to be sure they are responsibly sited. But if we are serious about protecting wild places, beautiful landscapes, and biodiversity, particularly in areas with smaller landscapes and lots of energy demand, it is the task at hand to find no regrets solutions to reducing energy use, and reducing the need for new power plants.

Despite the political challenges ahead, I felt quite positive coming out of a morning spent at the Alliance to Save Energy surrounded by businesses who want to do more than “good guy stuff,” as Senator Mark Warner put it. These businesses want to use energy efficiency to maximize profits, maximize their return on investment, and maximize their global competitiveness. And just when it couldn’t get any better, Bruce Ray, Director of Government Affairs for Warren Buffet’s energy efficiency company Johns Manville, stood up to spread Mr. Buffet’s recent and now famous call to invest in “people, communities and the environment” — something I blogged about just last week. Perhaps on ideas like energy efficiency, the environmental community and the private sector are more aligned than I thought. If folks only realized that saving energy also saves lands, we might put the cause over the edge. That makes good business sense to me.