Why Can't Energy Efficiency Get Any Respect?

Energy efficiency is widely regarded as the least costly source of additional energy, the most immediate way to reduce carbon emissions, a crucial part of any plan to achieve climate goals and advance a clean economy. It enjoys bipartisan support.
But Congress let federal energy-efficiency tax credits lapse more than a year ago, and the industry has struggled to get attention in a dramatically distracted capitol.
"Renewable energy is always the star quarterback," said Ray Fakhoury, a principle with the clean-energy advocacy group Advanced Energy Economy. "They’re back there. They’re doing all the things that you can point to them and see them and touch them.
"A lot of the time energy efficiency’s your line. You don’t see them, but if you have a poor line, then you’re going to have a lot of really inefficient renewable-energy production. So we like to think of things as a whole package. Energy efficiency must play a role."
Fakhoury was speaking on a panel of energy-efficiency lobbyists—yes, energy efficiency has lobbyists—at the Energy Solutions Conference hosted in February by the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA). Not everyone agreed with his assignment of positions.
"Energy efficiency should be the star quarterback," said Jason Hartke, president of the Alliance to Save Energy and a former head of the Department of Energy's commercial-efficiency effort. "Maybe it’s a blue-collar, workmanlike quarterback, maybe it’s not Tom Brady. It’s more like Jim McMahon."
MEEA executive director Stacey Paradis then suggested, before the Chicago audience, that Terry Bradshaw would be a better choice.
Hartke insisted that energy efficiency has made tremendous progress, but he conceded that it rarely gets to carry the ball.
"We’ve got tax incentives for a whole slew of different things, including powerful incentives on the generation side. but to not have efficiency incentives is really crazy."
In 2016 taxpayers could get breaks for efficient equipment (known by its marker in law as 25C), whole-home efficiency (45L), and commercial building efficiency (179D).
"Those have now been expired for over a year and two months," Hartke said. "Really, really sad. They had really strong bipartisan support, but it’s clouded because of all these other policy issues that are going on and all these other concurrent fights over other things—government shut-downs."
The Department of Energy has calculated that its $14 billion investment in efficiency research and development has netted $230 billion in net economic benefits, Hartke said.
"The sector represents two thirds of all energy jobs, 2.25 million jobs," he said, "and we’re reaping $800 billion in collective energy savings every single year. Things like standards are saving $2.4 trillion in net economic impacts.
"We’ve made tremendous progress in energy efficiency and there is a little bit of, ‘How do we get the quarterback status,’ but the stats have us there."

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