Part of NRDC's Year-End Series Reviewing 2019 Climate & Clean Energy Developments
Reflecting on 2019, it is hard to grapple with the extent of this year’s climate tragedies like massive wildfires and flooding. Yet even when things seem as dire as ever, there is continual news of progress, perseverance, and hope. And energy efficiency—the cheapest way to cut our energy waste and stave off climate change—is at the forefront of that progress and continues to be our planet’s superhero, improving our health, creating high-quality jobs, and making our energy bills more affordable.
What’s more, even as the U.S. builds more homes and commercial space, the amount of electricity needed to power those spaces (and the related pollution) is set to decline thanks to steady gains in efficiency.
States led (and continue to lead) the way
With a Trump administration bent on stalling or dismantling efficiency efforts at every turn, states filled an important gap on setting efficiency standards (so our gadgets use less energy) and in delivering building upgrades (to cut energy waste and improve our comfort and health). The annual American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) scorecard shows where states are making progress and where more work is needed.
Here are just a few state examples:
- Washington, Colorado, and Hawaii adopted expanded energy and water efficiency standards, including for faucets, commercial kitchen equipment, computers, and more.
- Illinois is moving forward with the Clean Energy Jobs Act to require 100 percent clean energy by 2050, including a significant increase in gas efficiency, while ensuring that programs help the most vulnerable communities while creating good jobs.
- Missouri recently approved an improved set of efficiency programs that will help renters and owners of affordable multifamily housing cut costs and energy waste while protecting the health of residents.
- Michigan now has its first long-term outlook for how Consumers Energy will serve its customers with clean energy through its "clean and lean" plan, which includes an impressive increase of energy efficiency.
- New Jersey began implementing groundbreaking efficiency legislation to ensure its utilities invest in all cost-effective energy efficiency, positioning itself to become a national leader.
- New York adopted the nation-leading Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act setting a path to net-zero emissions (efficiency playing a major role) while helping to advance equity for disadvantaged communities.
- California adopted a new framework to launch innovative market transformation ideas to get even more efficient products onto store shelves, helping cut energy waste in the state and beyond as those improved technologies become the norm nationally.
Job and emissions benefits were made crystal clear
There is no doubt that with strong policies to ensure high-quality jobs (e.g., those with family-sustaining wages, good benefits, a safe work environment, and a path for advancement), efficiency can help spur significant work for all Americans.
An analysis from the group E2 identified 2.3 million energy efficiency jobs based on 2019 U.S. Energy and Employment Report data. Energy efficiency accounted for half of the energy industry’s overall net new jobs in 2018 and employs twice as many U.S. workers as the entire fossil fuel industry. The workers who make buildings and equipment more efficient are earning good salaries in jobs that can't be outsourced. Many are military veterans, just another reason why this summer's passage of the appalling HB 6 bill gutting Ohio energy efficiency programs was such a terrible move for the state and its workers.
National standards despite Trump
Several new efficiency standards approved by previous administrations took effect this year. And while the Trump administration's DOE missed more legal deadlines for review of product standards, NRDC and others are holding them to account. A federal appeals court recently ordered the agency to take the final step on four standards, ensuring upward of $8.4 billion in utility bill savings and substantial reductions in carbon pollution.
Even with this great progress, we’re still fighting over the rules for setting standards. The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) proposed new process would make it far more difficult to advance products that give us the same (or even better) service but use far less energy, which would mean lower energy bills.
We are far from where we need to be in terms of cutting greenhouse gases and serving all communities. As we reflect on 2019, we can learn from our successes and build upon our challenges to make even more progress in 2020.
- Make sure everyone has access to clean energy. Getting sufficient funding to serve the most vulnerable communities has been difficult, but the opportunities are enormous, including cutting energy waste, improving health, and reducing the energy burden. Focusing efforts on these communities will not only help stave off climate change, it will improve their well-being, stimulate investment in their neighborhoods, and ensure that everyone is part of the clean energy transition.
- Fight for our lighting rights. The Trump administration continues its crusade to turn back time on light bulbs. In its latest proposal, DOE would illegally permit energy-wasting versions of the regular pear-shaped bulbs to remain on store shelves indefinitely. California, however, is again leading the way on efficiency by prohibiting the sale of inefficient light bulbs in the state as of January 1, but the federal attacks on energy efficiency must end.
- Keep up the state level work. Given the administration’s denial of climate change and focus on advancing industry interests at the expense of everyday Americans, states MUST continue their leadership. Many states have great efficiency policies in place and are poised for exciting progress, such as Virginia’s opportunity to adopt an ambitious energy efficiency resource standard, but other states require more work. Governors across the country have stepped up on climate action. It’s time to do even more.
There is no doubt that the climate crisis is real. But as we come to the end of a harrowing year for the earth, we have much to look forward to in 2020. Working in collaboration with equity and workforce advocates, industry, and governments, we can create scalable, comprehensive, and effective energy efficiency actions to cut pollution, make energy more affordable for everyone, clean our air, and create high-quality jobs.