Harnessing the Power of Efficiency in the Midwest

Good old Midwestern pragmatism is on display in Illinois and Missouri this week, as Governors Quinn and Nixon sign legislation expanding the role of energy efficiency as a resource that can lower our gas and electric bills while curbing pollution and creating the kind of jobs that we need in the post-rust-belt reality. 

Most Midwesterners wouldn’t leave the refrigerator door standing open, wouldn’t open the windows while the air conditioning is on, and wouldn’t choose to use expensive power plants to do a job that could be done with a portfolio of lower cost, cleaner energy resources.  But, for a variety of reasons, our utilities have for decades ignored the availability of a vast reservoir of clean energy efficiency potential and have instead invested in more expensive and more polluting resources.

That has begun to change, and not a moment too soon, as we face the twin challenges of rebuilding our economy and solving the climate crisis.

Today, Governor Quinn signed legislation to expand the successful energy efficiency standards that were adopted in 2007 for electric utilities to also cover the state’s natural gas utilities.  Under the new law, Illinois natural gas utilities will be required to use energy efficiency technologies such as more efficient furnaces, windows or insulation to lower demand for natural gas by an increasing amount each year, ramping up to 1.5% by 2019.  This measure will lower natural gas use in Illinois cumulatively by 7% over the next 10 years. 

Under the 2007 law, Illinois’s electric utilities have already begun to offer energy saving programs that will ramp up over the next 6 years to reducing electricity demand by 2% annually.  The Illinois electric utilities have already avoided the emission of roughly 200,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, and at a net negative cost to electric customers because the energy savings is more than offsetting the costs of power that would otherwise have been consumed.

On Monday, Governor Nixon of Missouri will sign legislation to spur the same kind of investment in Missouri.  Under S.B. 376, Missouri utilities will be able to use energy efficiency as a resource, just like they can use supply-side resources like coal, nuclear or wind and solar power, but at lower cost than any of those supply-side resources. 

Illinois and Missouri are not the only Midwest states that are taking advantage of the enormous potential of energy efficiency to save money, reduce pollution and create clean energy jobs.  Ohio and Michigan have adopted energy efficiency standards for their utilities and are in the first year of offering new programs to help their customers save energy.   In the Detroit area, DTE will invest $127 million to save 6.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity.  They will avoid $489 million in cost of generation and transmission of power, and thus will save $362 million over the life of the programs. 

Investing in energy efficiency is a Midwestern trend that would make our pragmatist ancestors proud, and one for which future generations will thank us.