Investing in efficiency is a billion-dollar energy solution. Why short-change it now?

Everyone knows that the cheapest and cleanest kilowatt-hour of energy is the one you didn’t use. Energy efficiency saves energy and money and prevents greenhouse gas emissions. But recently, the Bonneville Power Administration is asking us to revisit the value of efficiency, proposing reduced budgets for energy efficiency programs. By doing so, they are asking us just how much of a priority is energy efficiency, really?

The Bonneville Power Administration coordinates some pretty great energy efficiency programs. The agency’s programs support efficiency efforts of the public utilities across this region and also directly acquire energy efficiency savings. Bonneville’s programs helped save the BPA system somewhere on the order of $1 billion over the last decade alone. The region as a whole benefited even more, because that number doesn’t even count the dollar savings to those implementing the energy efficiency measures—not to mention the jobs and economic development created through the energy efficiency sector.

Why, in the face of this tremendous success, does it appear that Bonneville is backing away from aggressive energy efficiency acquisition? Why do recent budget proposals from BPA fall far short of what would be necessary to keep up momentum on energy efficiency programs. 

The BPA answers that the agency is faced with ever-growing capital investment needs, including transmission and infrastructure improvements, and others, leading to belt tightening across the agency.

We all understand belt tightening. Show me a household that doesn’t occasionally have to adjust spending when faced with the need for a new refrigerator, a new roof, or—as  seems to repeatedly happen to my mother in each and every home she has ever purchased—to fix a sewer line problem. But when an individual is faced with these issues, the smart financial advisor will tell them to find ways to prioritize and cut everyday expenses—stop eating out, turn down the thermostat (hmm… energy savings!). The financial advisor will advise against removing money from retirement savings – incurring penalties and shortchanging earnings from the future.

Cutting energy efficiency programs is like taking money out of your retirement savings early. Energy efficiency forgone today will cost the region money tomorrow and every day thereafter. The less energy efficiency we achieve now, the higher our energy costs will keep growing into the future. 

Not coincidentally, our carbon emissions will grow right along as well—because even though BPA’s hydropower is carbon free, the energy they purchase to supplement hydropower is not.

Our region needs to tell BPA not to short-change our future. Instead, they must continue to build on a very successful history of investing aggressively and regularly in energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency is no small part of the reason why we pay some of the lowest energy costs in the nation. Congress got it right when they passed the NW Power and Conservation Act more than 30 years ago—establishing energy efficiency as the priority resource for Bonneville. Let’s hope Bonneville pays attention to the financial results demonstrated through past investments in energy efficiency and finds some other way to pay for the investments facing the agency without squeezing the energy efficiency budgets and shortchanging our future. 

Energy efficiency ought to be our first priority – by law and by common sense.

Take action

BPA is accepting public comments on their Capitol Investment Review process. Ask them to fully fund energy efficiency program for 2016 and 2017! The comment period ends April 11.

For more information, read NW Energy Coalition's analysis of BPA's efficiency budget.

Wendy Gerlitz is Senior Policy Associate with the NW Energy Coalition.

, Climate Solutions

Wendy Gerlitz is Senior Policy Associate with the NW Energy Coalition.