Few ideas in this world are without controversy. Energy, in particular, is prone to disagreement, whether it’s extending a pipeline, fracking for natural gas or developing a wind farm. These issues get all the attention, but it is energy efficiency that stirs the least dissension on both sides of the aisle and should get more glory. It is still the quickest, least expensive and easiest way to keep our air cleaner, our citizens healthier and put more money in our pockets. In good times and in bad times, in a Democratic or Republican administration, saving energy is the one solution we can all agree on.
Polices promoting efficiency have been working in Massachusetts, but success did not happen overnight. Groundbreaking ideas that germinated more than two decades ago have blossomed. The Bay State is now ranked number one in the country for energy efficiency. If we keep on this path, we will reap even more rewards in the future.
Twenty-five years ago this July, a trail blazing and provocative report was issued by the New England Energy Policy Council that paved the way for energy efficiency and predicted its enormous potential. “Power to Spare” analyzed how the use of “negawatts” (a phrase Scientist Amory Lovins had recently coined), could significantly reduce energy costs and environmental damage without hurting economic growth.
The Conservation Law Foundation led a team that included Conservation Services Group, MASSPIRG, the Mass Audubon Society and a host of other groups and included Jon Wellinghoff as a critical consultant in laying out a long term plan for the region. (Wellinghoff is now the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.) We secured support from key utility company allies, such as John Rowe (then with New England Electric System and most recently, CEO of Exelon) and Tom May from Boston Edison (NSTAR).
Our proposition was unique: To shift incentives that encouraged utilities to sell more power, to a new model that would reward them for promoting conservation. By putting efficiency on a level playing field with coal, gas, oil and nuclear, we would be able to lower demand, cut consumption, decrease total use and reduce pollution. We promised to boost the local economy at the same time through the job intensive investments in efficiency and by reaping the economic benefits of lower energy costs.
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