Friday, July 31, 2015 | 2 a.m.
A study of the energy savings from a home-weatherization program for low-income residents in Michigan has received much media attention, including from the Sun (“Study: Home efficiency upgrades fall short, don’t pay,” lasvegassun.com, June 24). The study is misleading, if not fundamentally flawed. And it has been misused to claim that all types of energy-efficiency programs are uneconomical. This is not the case.
Energy-efficiency programs provide benefits that far exceed their costs. This is true of utility energy-efficiency programs such as those implemented by NV Energy and Southwest Gas Co. in Nevada. It is also true for programs that upgrade homes occupied by low-income families when the full benefits of this type of program are taken into account.
Utilities offer households various types of incentives to promote more efficient energy use. These include rebates if a high-efficiency heating or cooling system is purchased or upgraded, rebates on certain energy-efficient appliances, discounts on energy-efficient LED light bulbs, free pickup and recycling of old refrigerators and freezers, and free state-of-the-art smart thermostats. In addition, utilities send out home energy reports to promote greater awareness and action on the part of homeowners.
Utilities offer businesses rebates for all types of energy-efficiency measures, such as lighting upgrades, high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment, and more efficient pumps and motors. Small businesses are eligible for free energy assessments. Both technical assistance and rebates are provided to help schools and nonprofit organizations upgrade the energy efficiency of their buildings. And utilities also provide financial and technical support to help make new buildings as energy-efficient as possible.
NV Energy invested $357 million in rebates and other programs that helped its customers save energy from 2007-14. Third-party evaluation determined that the programs displaced the need for two large, costly power plants and helped customers save more than 2 billion kWh per year as of 2014, equivalent to the electric use of 200,000 typical Nevada house
holds. Moreover, the programs will provide customers with more than $4 in electricity savings for every dollar spent by NV Energy, according to the independent evaluations.
The U.S. Department of Energy funds upgrades of homes occupied by low-income families through the Weatherization Assistance Program. These upgrades result in significant utility bill savings for cash-strapped low-income families. In addition, homes receive health and safety improvements — for example, when malfunctioning or inoperative furnaces and boilers or broken windows are replaced, or when dangerous electrical wiring is repaired. Homes stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, improving occupant comfort. And homes that are typically substandard increase in value after these upgrades are made.
By reducing electricity consumption, energy-efficiency programs reduce the operation of coal and natural gas-fired power plants, saving water and reducing pollutant emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will require Nevada to cut its carbon dioxide emissions as part of the soon-to-be-issued Clean Power Plan regulations. Nevada is well along the path to compliance by committing to shut down coal-fired power plants and increase renewable energy generation, but more action is needed to meet the EPA’s requirements. Expanding utility and state energy-efficiency programs is the most cost-effective option for achieving the necessary emissions reductions.
Energy-efficiency improvements cost less than supplying energy from any new power source, whether it’s a natural gas-fired power plant, solar power or a geothermal plant. Increasing energy efficiency is also the least expensive way of cutting pollutant emissions. And selling and installing energy-efficiency measures supports well-paying jobs in local economies. For both economic and environmental reasons, Nevada should strengthen its energy-efficiency efforts, building on the success to date.
Howard Geller is executive director of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, a public-interest organization that operates in Nevada and nearby states.