Energy Efficiency Markets LLC

Will support for efficiency hold in 2009?

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Courtesy of Courtesy of Energy Efficiency Markets LLC

The stars are aligned to make 2009 a good year for energy efficiency — or at least, most of the stars. President Barack Obama has assembled an energy team that supports clean technologies. Most notably, Obama named Steven Chu as energy secretary on December 15. Chu is a Nobel Prize winner and director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a leader in bringing energy efficiency technologies to market, such as the compact fluorescent light bulb.

Obama also is in the process of putting together an economic recovery package that places high priority on energy, including investment in efficiency. The goal is to quickly create jobs by giving ‘shovel-ready’ projects a boost in the sluggish economy. Efficiency projects more easily qualify as ‘shovel-ready’ — set for quick development – than most energy undertakings. Efficiency measures rarely require the kind of time-consuming permitting, engineering and financing of power plant or transmission construction.

So what star is out of place in the sky? The star that governs oil prices. It costs far less to fill up the gas tank now than it did last summer. That is a good thing. The problem is that the US consumer tends to be short-sighted. If gasoline is cheap today, who cares about tomorrow? Energy efficiency falls out of favor.

Joe Loper, senior vice president for the Alliance to Save Energy, warned about this “cycle of complacency” in testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources December 10. Loper recommended $15 billion in economic stimulus money for energy efficiency to keep the nation’s energy goals on track. Investing in efficiency will not only create jobs, but also will foster continued use of technologies that have already proven their worth. “A silent partner” in meeting the nation’s energy needs, efficiency has reduced America’s energy bill and related carbon emissions by 50% since 1973, he said.

Obama, himself, is worried that declining gas prices may erode support for his aggressive energy agenda. He told Time magazine that lower oil prices make “the politics of it tougher than it might have been six months ago.”

We’ll see in the next several weeks if support continues for an overhaul of the nation’s energy portfolio, or if the public follows the wrong star in the sky...

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