CaliforniaAggie: MA surpasses CA in energy-efficiency rating

Written by Eric C. Lipsky at University of California-Davis

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  • Massuchusetts surpasses California as the most energy-efficient state in the U.S.
  • California has been a leader in energy conservation for decades
  • The Publics Good Charge, a small fee levied on residents’ utility bills, will expire at the end of 2011
  • Some view the rating as a chance for California to get up-to-date with technologies and policies

    Consumers can achieve energy conservation and efficiency at home by turning off lights and replacing them with LEDs.

The most recent report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) states that California is no longer the most energy-efficient state in the United States. According to the report from the private research group, Massachusetts is now the country’s most efficient state followed by California, New York, Oregon and Washington, respectively.

California held the top spot for the last four years, so what does this decrease in rank say about the state’s energy efficiency?

“Personally, I prefer us [California] being number two. It’s a wake-up call, it makes us try harder,” said Benjamin Finkelor, executive director at the UC Davis Energy Efficiency Center.

Finkelor said that California has a reputation for being a leader when it comes to energy efficiency and outspends many other states.

According to Finkelor, there are three contributing factors to California’s high status in energy efficiency: codes and standards, energy efficiency programs — such as rebate programs — and nice weather.

“The codes and standards California has are the most aggressive in the country,” Finkelor said. “The energy efficiency bill started in California, some will even say it started in Davis.”

Finkelor said that the state’s combination of prescriptive and performance-based rebate programs encourages manufacturers and retailers to be energy efficient. When it comes to the aggressive codes and standards California has, he said it started decades ago.

“It started in the 1970s when refrigeration was required to become more efficient,” Finkelor said.

He pointed out that appliance standards are crucial because they force the manufacturer to care about the ultimate price the consumer pays, which is especially important, since in the end consumers are the ones paying the bills.

Finkelor said that a great help to California’s energy efficiency has come through the Public Goods Charge (PGC) — the small fee that California residents see in their monthly utility bills.

“Eighty percent of money collected from the PGC is spent on rebates and programs that help energy efficiency,” Finkelor said.

Unfortunately, California legislature did not renew the PGC earlier this year, meaning it will expire at the end of 2011.

“Not continuing that [PGC] or some form of continued investment in both research and development, [or] incentive rebates arguably puts us at a disadvantage,” Finkelor said.

Finkelor said that there is no reason to suggest that the state could not implement a similar program through regulation instead of law, and Gov. Jerry Brown has even asked that some sort of PGC be instituted in any way possible.

Alan Meier, associate director and senior scientist at the UC Davis Energy Efficiency Center, believes that too much emphasis should not be placed in the report from the ACEEE.

“The choice of programs taken into account, and the weighting assigned to each of them, is to some extent subjective,” Meier said.

Even though the report has California ranked lower than it previously was, Meier views it optimistically.

“The good news is that many more states have ratcheted up their energy efficiency programs and are reducing consumers’ energy bills,” Meier said.

He said that it is difficult to ascertain the reason for the change in ranking for California, but that California cannot be stagnant.

“The ACEEE scorecard is a signal to California — from the governor to the legislature to the utilities to the regulators — that they cannot be complacent,” Meier said. “Saving energy requires constant updates to policies, technical innovations and information to consumers.”

According to the report from ACEEE, total national budgets for electricity efficiency increased from $3.4 billion dollars in 2009 to $4.5 billion in 2010, showing that energy efficiency is taking an ever greater importance.

ERIC C. LIPSKY can be reached at science@theaggie.org.

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