WASHINGTON — Energy efficiency is gaining momentum in states traditionally ranked near the bottom of the American Council for Energy-Efficient Economy’s (ACEEE’s) annual State Energy Efficiency Scorecard. While these states must address barriers to energy efficiency, ACEEE said a window of opportunity exists to move efficiency forward, according to its new report, Opportunity Knocks: Examining Low-Ranking States in the State Energy Efficiency Scorecard.

The report draws on a series of in-depth interviews with stakeholders in states ranked in the bottom 10 of the State Energy Efficiency Scorecard: Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming. ACEEE said the findings and recommendations of the report are applicable to numerous other states struggling to advance energy efficiency.

“States are leading the way on energy efficiency, and while some have a head start, this report finds that every state can find ways to save energy,” said Steven Nadel, executive director of ACEEE and a co-author of the report.

Despite their low rankings in the Scorecard, each of the states examined in the report have successfully improved their energy efficiency in at least some way. For example, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law energy efficiency legislation that directs all state agencies and higher education institutions to achieve at least 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency by 2020.

“Up until now, hundreds of millions of dollars each year have been wasted on practices like keeping the lights on in empty government buildings. We can now expect that money either to be returned to taxpayers or to fund core services like education, transportation, public safety, and health care,” said Fallin.

ACEEE noted that other states are also beginning to realize the benefits of energy efficiency. In addition to Oklahoma, Alabama and South Carolina recently passed statewide building energy codes to ensure new homes and buildings are built to save energy from the start. A number of states, notably Kansas, have solid programs in place to plan and finance energy efficiency improvements in state government facilities.

While more opportunities remain for these states, a number of barriers are holding up progress on energy efficiency, said ACEEE. The most notable barrier is the perception that energy efficiency costs more than it is worth.

“States have a great opportunity knocking at their doors. Energy efficiency is an investment, and like any investment, there is a cost and return. Our research shows that the benefits of energy efficiency improvements substantially outweigh their costs in the long run and deserve attention from utilities and state governments seeking to lower energy costs for consumers,” said Michael Sciortino, ACEEE senior analyst and lead author of the report.

The report finds that a number of actions can advance energy efficiency and do not require major government spending or regulatory action. Like Oklahoma, states can “lead by example” by advancing energy efficiency projects in government facilities as well as at universities and schools by using financing methods such as performance contracts that allow projects to be paid for by using the savings generated by the installed energy efficiency measures.

States can also adopt and enforce building energy codes, implement utility-sector energy efficiency programs where such programs cost less than building new power plants, and support deployment of combined heat and power (CHP) projects.

“The policies and programs we recommend in the report are tried and true. States that were low-ranking in the Scorecard only a few years ago like Arkansas, Arizona, Michigan, and Tennessee have all raised their scores by using these approaches,” said Rachel Young, a co-author of the report and analyst at ACEEE. “We hope this report is instructive for leaders seeking ways to save money and create jobs in their states.”

To view the report, visit http://aceee.org/research-report/e126.

To view the 2011 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, visit http://aceee.org/research-report/e115.

Publication date: 6/4/2012