Their view | Pennsylvania has opportunity to increase energy efficiency

On June 2, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose sweeping new Clean Air Act regulations designed to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, the heat-trapping greenhouse gas that the majority of scientists believe is the chief cause of climate change.

After the regulations are announced, states will have a year to develop a plan to comply with the rules. The regulations are likely to spark intense debate.

But rather than engage in a protracted fight about the pros and cons of the regulations, there is a simple, cheap and effective option that offers common ground: Pennsylvania policymakers should adopt regulations that require increased energy efficiency.

New regulations such as updated model building codes and new standards for appliances could cut waste dramatically and make Pennsylvania “energy strong.” Such efforts will actually strengthen the economy and create jobs. The energy efficiency efforts will also give states more flexibility to manage their so-called energy portfolios and meet the EPA requirements.

Increased energy efficiency is the quickest, cheapest and easiest way to both reduce pollution and lower energy costs. In short, energy efficiency is not only good for the environment it is good business.

Many think of energy efficiency as replacing incandescent lights bulb for an energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulb, or installing a more efficient heating and air conditioning system.

Those are all certainly good and worthy steps. But if done on a much larger scale, energy efficiency is able to make our power grid more reliable and reduce cost.

Big business has a leading role to play. For instance, Microsoft ever a few steps ahead of most of us — recently implemented sweeping energy efficiency and technology changes across its 88-acre campus to create a “smart building” system that saves the company some $1.5 million annually. Pennsylvania companies such as Comcast and Dow already are working to make energy saving as easy as using your smartphone.

Indeed, many energy efficiency efforts already are having an impact. The energy efficiency programs offered by electric utility providers saved Pennsylvania ratepayers over $1 billion from 2009 to 2013 and returned almost $3 of benefits for every $1 spent.

More broadly, cutting energy waste has the potential to reduce carbon pollution by 23 percent by 2030, according to a new study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. The increased efficiency could save $22 billion in electricity costs and create over 16,000 new industry jobs here in Pennsylvania.

Overall, energy efficiency policies could reduce electricity demand by 25 percent and cut 600 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The increased efficiency could also create 611,000 new jobs and increase gross domestic product by more than $17 billion, according to the ACEEE study.

Best of all the technology to reduce energy waste already is here. Investing in that technology will allow building managers to actively manage usage, which lowers utility costs and increases electricity grid reliability.

Energy efficiency has a unique role to play in upgrading our energy system. The more our leaders — as well as businesses and residents — commit to advancing energy efficiency, the more Pennsylvanians will be assured clean, reliable and cheap power that will generate thousands of energy jobs.

This is an urgent issue. The long, cold winter underscores the need to increase efficiency and reliability of our power grid.

Despite Pennsylvania’s leadership in natural gas drilling and coal mining, thousands of us suffered from skyrocketing utility bills. Many more Pennsylvanians were forced out of their homes due to widespread power outages. As Pennsylvania looks to comply with the EPA standards, we have the opportunity to simultaneously increase efficiency, lower energy costs and improve the environment.

Most would agree that to make Pennsylvania’s economy truly strong, we need to be “energy-strong.” Our leaders need to focus more on how we’re using energy, not just how we’re getting it. We can make our power grid more reliable and our energy cheaper just by reducing waste and becoming more energy efficient.