Iowa Can Meet Health, Environmental, and Economic Goals through Smarter Energy Use

"American prosperity has always depended on embracing new ideas and technologies. By deploying renewable, cleaner and more efficiency energy solutions, we can make our national economy more productive and resilient.... Promoting energy savings through efficiency and conservation programs is the fastest, most reliable and often cheapest way to meet our energy needs."

Iowa's Governor Branstad signed the Governor's Clean Energy Accord on February 16, 2016. An agreement between 17 states, the Accord is a commitment to work together to expand clean energy - including energy efficiency - because of the myriad benefits that it brings to our electric grid, our health, and our economy.

After all, the cheapest and cleanest electricity is the electricity we don't use. Smarter energy use is the most cost-effective way of reducing pollution from power plants, including the dangerous carbon pollution that contributes to climate change. And, by investing in technologies to reduce energy waste, we can provide valuable savings to customers, create jobs in hard-hit sectors like carpentry and manufacturing, and make homes and buildings safer and more comfortable.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan sets the first limits on carbon pollution from power plants, the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. While the Clean Power Plan is delayed as legal challenges play out, states have an opportunity to show leadership and continue progress on cutting carbon pollution while saving consumers money and creating jobs.

NRDC joined businesses, other nonprofits, and trade associations in a letter to Governor Branstad, advising that Iowa prioritize energy efficiency in meeting its Clean Power Plan goals. The signers were a diverse group, ranging from Dow Chemical Co. and the American Chemistry Council to the nonpartisan business group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2). According to the letter, a few common efficiency policies, such as updating building energy codes and increasing the use of combined heat and power, would save Iowans over $7 billion on their utility bills, avoid 11 million tons of carbon pollution, and reduce thousands of tons of other harmful emissions.

Similar letters were sent to 33 other governors to highlight the strong support for smarter energy use, especially from the business community, and underscore the opportunities for states to use efficiency to reduce harmful pollution and grow their economies at the same time.

Iowa has decades of experience in saving consumers money through utility-run efficiency programs that have insulated homes and offered rebates for purchase of more energy-efficient appliances.

But Iowa--which still relies heavily on out-of-state coal for electricity generation despite impressive investments in wind generation--can do much more to expand efficiency.

Among the actions Iowa leaders should take: increase the use of combined heat and power, where electricity and heat are generated from a single source; and opt into the EPA's Clean Energy Incentive Program, which will reward states for early investments in energy efficiency and clean energy measures.

The state also should step up efforts to improve manufacturing energy efficiency, reduce commercial buildings' and residential energy use, including participating for the first time in the $5 billion market for investment in large building efficiency upgrades through energy savings performance contracts.

Implementing these measures will get Iowa more than 70 percent of the way to its 2030 carbon-reduction targets under the Clean Power Plan. And, by taking strong state action now, Iowa will reduce the cost of meeting the Clean Power Plan's carbon reduction targets.

An NRDC analysis showed that ramping up efficiency in Iowa would create 2,500 efficiency jobs alone and save businesses and residents $101 million on energy bills in 2020. Iowa should build on its decades of experience with utility efficiency programs and focus on ever-smarter energy use in the decades to come to cut pollution, safeguard its citizens' health, and grow the economy.