By the Natural Resources Defense Council
More Than A Quarter Century of Energy Savings
Thanks to private sector investments and government policies, our economy has grown far more energy efficient since the genuine energy crises of the 1970s.
Without these improvements — due mainly to higher mileage cars, energy-saving refrigerators, light bulbs and other equipment, and energy savings in industry — U.S. energy use in 2000 would have been 40 percent higher. Americans would have spent $260 billion more on energy bills in 2000, and pollution levels would have been higher.
Energy efficiency helps the economy grow with less pollution — GDP grew 19 percent in the five years from 1996 to 2000 with only 5 percent growth in carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming.
Tremendous efficiency gains are still there for the asking, by using technology on the market today and by investing in development of even better technology for tomorrow.
Opening Moves in the Wrong Direction
President Bush has proposed weakening new efficiency standards for new air conditioners, a step that will force construction of at least 40 more power plants by 2020, cost consumers up to $900 million in higher electric bills in that year and cause 180 million more tons of carbon dioxide over the next three decades. And while proposing more spending to weatherize low-income homes, the Bush budget would slash programs to develop the next generation of energy efficiency technologies by $180 million, a crippling 30 percent cut. Last week, Vice President Cheney derided energy conservation as just “a sign of personal virtue.”
The Bush-Cheney Energy Plan
All signs are that the forthcoming Bush-Cheney energy plan will pay inadequate attention to improving the nation’s energy efficiency. Instead, it will be heavily tilted towards increasing coal, oil, and nuclear energy supplies. The administration’s blindness to the potential of energy efficiency will cost America dearly.
Increasing the energy efficiency of our homes, vehicles, offices and factories would save Americans billions of dollars every year in lower energy bills. It would reduce demand for electricity, gasoline and other fuels, meaning we wouldn’t need to build as many costly new power plants or drill for oil and gas in our most precious parks and wildernesses. At the same time, it would cut millions of tons of air pollution, especially carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming.
And it would do all this without sacrifice. Energy-efficient vehicles, air conditioners, washing machines and other equipment will deliver equal or better comfort and performance at lower lifetime cost than their inefficient ancestors.
In the electric sector, energy efficiency measures could avoid the need for approximately 610 of the 1,300 new power plants that Vice President Cheney claims we must build over the next 20 years, according to an Energy Department “Clean Energy Future” study that the Bush administration has completely ignored. The DOE study says renewable power could supply the equivalent of about 180 more of the new 300 megawatt plants Cheney says are needed, and most of the rest would be high-efficiency natural gas units built to replace older and dirtier plants. Americans would save more than $30 billion per year on their electric bills, and emissions of all power plant pollutants, including carbon dioxide, would be dramatically reduced.
The DOE “Clean Energy Future” study says that increasing energy efficiency across the economy could cut national energy use by 10 percent or more in 2010 and about 20 percent in 2020, with net savings for consumers and businesses. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy projects that energy efficiency policies covering transportation, electricity and other sectors could lower national energy use even more — by 18 percent in 2010 and by 33 percent in 2020. Along with measures to promote renewable energy supplies, these policies could save Americans $500 billion over the next two decades, while dramatically cutting carbon dioxide and other air pollutants.
What the Bush-Cheney Plan Should Include
Efficiency policies for oil and gasoline
- Raise fuel economy standards for new cars, SUVs and other light trucks to an average of 40 miles per gallon over the next decade. This would save 50 billion barrels of oil over the next 50 years, more than 15 times more oil than the U.S. Geological Survey says is economically recoverable from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge over the same period. It would save 3 million barrels of oil per day when fully phased in, nearly 8 times the peak production rate forecast for the Arctic Refuge.
- Require replacement tires to be as fuel-efficient (as low in “rolling resistance”) as the original tires on new vehicles. This would save 5.8 billion barrels of oil over 50 years.
- Provide tax credits for clean and efficient gas-electric hybrids and fuel-cell vehicles.
- Refocus transportation funding, tax credits and other policies to encourage “smart-growth” development that reduces sprawl and the amount people need to drive.
Efficiency policies for electricity and natural gas
- Curb all four major air pollutants from power plants, including carbon dioxide. A four-pollutant program with incentives for energy efficiency investments would lower electricity demand, cut the cost of curbing pollution, and reduce consumers’ electricity bills. Given President Bush’s reversal of his campaign promise to limit CO2 from power plants, his energy plan is likely to include only an incomplete three-pollutant proposal — one that won’t meet environmental needs, promote efficiency or even give industry the certainty it craves.
- Establish a national fund, paid for by a small charge on electricity transmission, to support energy efficiency programs, develop new technologies, and maintain service for low-income citizens.
- Strengthen energy-efficiency standards for appliances and buildings. Huge energy savings would come from new standards for residential and commercial heating equipment, commercial air conditioners, and electrical transformers.
- Provide tax incentives for efficient new buildings and energy-using equipment. Tax credits for the most efficient equipment and building designs would bring both immediate results, cutting demand for electricity and natural gas faster than new plants, transmission lines, and pipelines can be built.
- Double R&D funding for promising new efficiency technologies for vehicles, buildings, and factories. DOE’s energy-efficiency R&D has returned more than $100 billion to the economy over the past two decades — a good return on total investments of less than $13 billion.