Don’t Gut Federal Energy Efficiency Programs

August 28, 2017 | Howard Geller & Neil Kolwey

Federal energy efficiency programs within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are threatened with devastating budget cuts proposed by the Trump Administration. Should citizens, businesses, and elected officials in the Southwest care? Absolutely!

According to a 2017 DOE report, Southwestern states (AZ, CO, NM, NV, UT, and WY) are home to 123,000 energy efficiency jobs — more jobs, in fact, than any other segment of the energy industry including oil and gas production. The federal energy efficiency programs support and contribute to these jobs, while providing significant energy and cost savings to businesses and consumers, and significant reductions in CO2 and other pollutant emissions.

DOE’s energy efficiency programs include programs to improve energy efficiency in industry, homes, commercial buildings, and vehicles. For example, DOE’s Appliance and Equipment Efficiency Standards program periodically reviews and updates standards and test procedures that address 90 percent of home energy use, 60 percent of commercial building energy use, and 30 percent of industrial energy use. In the Southwest, standards adapted to date have resulted in significant energy cost savings:

  • Southwest businesses save a total of $1.1 billion per year;
  • A typical Southwest household saves about $460 per year (about 14 percent of its annual utility bill).

DOE provides R&D support to help develop new technologies that save energy in industry and buildings. Examples of companies in the Southwest that received valuable R&D support from DOE include:

Coolerado, located in Denver, produces innovative evaporative cooling systems that use only 10 to 40 percent of the energy used by conventional air conditioners. Coolerado collaborated with DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL) to analyze, test and refine Coolerado’s initial products. Coolerado is now part of Seeley International, which has 500 employees and sells its highly efficient cooling systems internationally.

IntelliChoice Energy, located in Las Vegas, produces the NextAire natural gas-fired heat pump, an alternative to electricity-driven rooftop heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units used by commercial buildings.  By operating on natural gas, the NextAire heat pump reduces peak electricity demand and demand charges (the fees utilities charge for maximum electricity demand during the month); the savings, in turn can help to significantly reduce a facility’s energy costs. “The grant from the DOE was instrumental to getting this technology off the ground,” said Isaac Mahderekal from IntelliChoice Energy. “Without it, it [the technology] wouldn’t be what it is today.”

DOE also funds a program called Clean Cities, in which states or regions organize coalitions of businesses and local governments to support more efficient vehicles and alternative-fuel vehicles. The seven Clean Cities coalitions in the Southwest already have achieved notable benefits:

  • 86.5 million gallons of petroleum saved;
  • 474,000 tons of CO2 emissions avoided.

Additionally, DOE funds Industrial Assessment Centers (IACs) at 28 U.S. universities, including the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ. The IACs provide free energy assessments to small- and medium-size manufacturers, and provide training to engineering students. Since 1984, the IACs in the Southwest accomplished impressive results:

  • 118 students trained;
  • 1150 assessments completed;
  • 4.9 trillion Btu of energy savings from implemented recommendations;
  • $57 million in cost savings to the industrial facilities.

The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) is another valuable DOE program, funding energy efficiency improvements to low-income homes throughout the nation. In the Southwest, the WAP provided the following benefits from home upgrades during 2010-17 alone:

  • 22,200 houses received efficiency upgrades;
  • $6.5 million in cost savings per year;
  • 643 billion Btu of energy savings per year.

EPA’s Energy Star programs also support many jobs and help Southwest businesses and homeowners save money through labeling of energy-efficient appliances, equipment, and buildings. The six Southwest states are home to more than 907 businesses and organizations participating in the ENERGY STAR programs, including:

  • 56 manufacturers of ENERGY STAR certified products;
  • 47 companies supporting independent certification of ENERGY STAR products and homes;
  • 292 companies building ENERGY STAR certified homes.

Many households, businesses, school districts, governments, and non-profit organizations use ENERGY STAR resources to reduce energy waste in their homes and facilities.

After the August Congressional recess, the U.S. Senate and House will tackle the challenge of reconciling their respective Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Appropriations bills, which include funding for the DOE and EPA energy efficiency programs. The Senate’s proposed funding levels, while still a reduction compared to FY 2017 funding levels, are much higher than those of the House.

SWEEP urges the Senate to hold the line, thereby minimizing any cuts in funding to the valuable DOE and EPA energy efficiency programs in FY 2018. Any significant reductions in funding to these programs would be a missed opportunity for continued economic and environmental benefits, in the Southwest and nationwide.