With new power plant rules, energy efficiency checks all the boxes

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency will announce common sense standards that will cut carbon pollution from power plants and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The new standards are historic. They will be the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from the existing electricity sector fleet, which currently makes up about one-third of total emissions in the United States. The EPA will give states the flexibility to use many different tools to reduce pollution, but one strategy stands out as especially cost-effective and certain to work: energy efficiency. 

{mosads}Last summer, President Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop carbon pollution standards for existing power plants as part of his Climate Action Plan. The EPA has authority under the 1990 Clean Air Act, an authority affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, to set these public health protections against carbon pollution.

Under this authority, the EPA is creating new guidelines for power plants and will work with states, local utilities and stakeholders to implement them.  By giving states flexibility to meet these goals and authorizing the broadest possible use of energy efficiency measures, this coordinated effort can help lower energy costs, enhance grid reliability, and ensure a cleaner, safer environment.

After all, energy efficiency is one of the most reliable and cost-effective ways to mitigate pollution. A recent study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) finds that the EPA can cut CO2 emissions 26% below 2012 levels while also increasing GDP by $17.2 billion and creating a whopping 611,000 new jobs.  Through implementing four common and proven efficiency policies — energy efficiency targets, model building codes, combined heat and power systems, and more stringent standards for equipment and appliances — 925 million megawatt-hours of electricity could be saved by 2030. Such a reduction in national energy use would abate approximately 600 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions — the equivalent of taking 130 million passenger vehicles off the road for an entire year.

One thing we have learned from our experiences in government and business is the need to find common sense cost effective ways to solve difficult problems. When it comes to reducing dangerous pollutants, energy efficiency is one of those solutions.

That’s what brought us together at Arlington, VA.-based Opower, a company that believes behavioral energy efficiency — which includes giving households personalized feedback on their usage, targeted incentives to conserve, and easy-to-understand savings advice — could save US households over 18 million megawatt-hours every year. That’s the equivalent of 10 million metric tons of CO2 and $2.2 billion in cash savings for American consumers year after year, and that doesn’t even include the vast savings potential for the commercial and industrial sectors.

Utilities nationwide are beginning to capitalize on these potential savings. Large investor-owned companies like Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE), National Grid, and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) are helping their customers save energy, save money, and reduce carbon emissions through behavioral energy efficiency programs. Collectively, these utilities worldwide have already saved more than four terawatt-hours of energy through behavioral efficiency, enough to rival the Hoover Dam or power all the homes in a city the size of San Francisco for an entire year.

President Obama said, “the old rules may say we can’t protect our environment and promote economic growth at the same time, but in America, we’ve always used new technology to break the old rules.” A concerted public-private effort between the EPA, states, utilities, and technology companies that breaks the old rules and promotes energy efficiency will keep electric bills low, maintain grid reliability, create jobs, and substantially cut pollution. That’s a huge opportunity for Americans — and for their health and environment.

Browner is a former EPA administrator and former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy. She currently serves on Opower’s advisory board.  Laskey is president and co-founder of Arlington, VA-based Opower.

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