Efficiency: The Gateway Drug of Energy Policy

In the nebulous rhetoric about America's "clean energy future," we often lose sight of energy efficiency, something we can invest in right here, right now, that will dramatically reduce energy costs for both homes and businesses.
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Today is Energy Security Day at the White House. In a speech at Georgetown University, President Obama underscored his commitment to reducing our dependence on foreign oil and boosting the production of clean, renewable energy here on American soil.

The speech was mainly about oil. But I'm glad to see that energy efficiency is a part of this discussion.

In the nebulous rhetoric about America's "clean energy future," we often lose sight of energy efficiency, something we can invest in right here, right now, that will dramatically reduce energy costs for both homes and businesses. Energy efficiency is really the first renewable: the gateway drug, if you will, that can hook American consumers on the benefits of an energy-smart lifestyle by showing them the impact that energy has on their everyday lives.

Encouraging American home and business owners to be more energy efficient places them on what I call the food chain of sustainability. Your ask starts small, with compact fluorescent light bulbs and turning down the thermostat a degree or two. Once consumers see how easy and impactful these actions can be, they are more likely to move up to bigger ones, like purchasing energy efficient appliances and upgrading their insulation. Then, they'll want to talk to their friends about how much they're saving. And further along the food chain, they will be knowledgeable enough about their energy use to understand the benefits and cost savings associated with purchasing or generating their own clean energy.

These energy-smart consumers become a grassroots army that will help us accomplish the ambitious energy challenges that President Obama has put on the table: putting 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015, cutting U.S. oil imports one-third by 2025, and using 80 percent clean energy by 2035.

Here's what President Obama's press office says about energy efficiency in a fact sheet released earlier today:

Our homes, businesses and factories consume over 70 percent of the energy we use. By making smart investments in energy efficiency in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors, we can improve U.S. competitiveness and protect our environment, while saving consumers money on electricity bills. That is why the Administration is on track to weatherize 600,000 low-income homes through Recovery Act investments, and why we remain committed to a series of policies that increase efficiency across sectors - including a HOMESTAR program to help homeowners finance retrofits, a "Better Buildings Initiative" to make commercial facilities 20 percent more efficient by 2020, and steps to promote industrial energy efficiency.

My staff and I are working closely with two Better Buildings campaigns in Connecticut and New York (the Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge and Energize Bedford, respectively) that are related to the initiative mentioned above. These campaigns are landmark commitments by the federal government to create jobs and put money back into local economies by making it possible for people to increase the efficiency of their homes and businesses.

They're also points of town and state pride. At an event last week in Hartford, leaders from 14 towns participating in the Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge were commended by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney and Connecticut's newly minted Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, Daniel C. Esty, formerly of Yale University's Center for Business and the Environment. Like President Obama, these public officials know the difference that energy efficiency will make for their constituents.

What's more, Esty is leading by example by joining the Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge himself. He's scheduled to get an home energy audit of his own later this week. After all, good policy is good politics! With energy efficiency, everybody wins.

So today, let's take a moment apart from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Libyan conflict and the rising price of gasoline to reflect on Obama's plan for addressing American's long-term energy security. And let's not forget the vital role that energy efficiency will play in that security.

Brian Keane is the President of SmartPower, a non-profit marketing organization funded by private foundations to help build the clean energy marketplace by helping the American public become smarter about their energy use.

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