Environment Picture

Smart energy policy starts with getting serious about efficiency

Here’s a story problem: Jim and Judy both got the fancy new electronic thingamawhat for Christmas. Jim pays an extra 9 cents per kilowatt-hour to run the thingamawhat. Judy runs hers for the same amount of time, but offsets its energy use by installing energy efficient lighting and appliances at a cost of 2.6 cents per kilowatt hour.
 Question: Who pays more? The answer is clear in Michigan, where the Public Service Commission reports a cost of 2.6 cents/kilowatt-hour to save electricity, while new coal-fired power plants would cost about 9 cents/kWh.
With an energy plan at the top of Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s agenda in 2007, she and the Michigan Legislature have the opportunity to wring out as much waste as possible through efficiency before considering new power plant proposals. This means installing a range of proven measures that benefit all ratepayer classes—things like compact fluorescent lightbulbs, modern industrial motors, additional building insulation, triple-pane windows, and gas-stingy furnaces and boilers.
Beyond cutting demand for imported dirty coal, an aggressive state efficiency program would spur high-tech activity through the design and manufacture of better household appliances, next generation LED lighting systems, and other advanced technologies. But much of the resulting work—in construction, installation and maintenance—would create the very thing Michigan so badly needs: traditional middle class, hammer-and-wrench jobs. Best of all, workers in Bandung, Beijing or Bangalore cannot install programmable thermostats or new hot water heaters in Michigan, so these jobs would remain secure.
Effective energy policy in 2007 must start with priming the financial pump for efficiency investments. Michigan was once a leader in funding statewide programs for this purpose. But other states passed Michigan by as the state’s successful programs of a decade ago were dismantled. On the bright side, years of neglect have created enormous potential to save energy here. Now Gov. Granholm and the Michigan Legislature can re-establish our previous commitment by adopting annual public benefits funding on the order of $150 million for electricity-related projects and $60 million for natural gas.
That’s an answer that will help everyone.
-David Gard, Michigan Environmental Council
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