We all can be energy efficient

By Joseph Otis Minott and Steven Hershey

America is an inefficient user of energy.

As a nation, we continue to waste dollars and produce emissions which, we now know, include harmful pollutants. Indeed, among highly industrialized economies, America is regarded as the least energy efficient. While the debate continues at the national level about the implications of this behavior, at the local level the impacts of inefficient energy use are becoming easier to see, and to measure.

For instance, recent research indicates that right now, Pennsylvania is contributing 1 percent of all heat-trapping emissions being released around the globe. This means our emissions in Pennsylvania, when compared to entire nations, rank as the world’s twenty-second largest source of such emissions. Here in the U.S., only Texas and California emit more known pollutants.

What can be done to change such a startling reality? Luckily, the very fact that inefficiency drives so much of America’s emissions means that there’s a real silver lining. Simply being less inefficient – something we can each do without much sacrifice – saves a lot of money and reduces emissions, creates local jobs … and it can be done quickly and easily.

Quite literally, each of us can reduce our overall impact on emissions locally, nationally and globally, conserving energy and reaping financial benefits while supporting the environment.

We get our energy from many sources, but whether it comes from domestic fuels like natural gas or alternative sources like solar, using it efficiently is the right thing to do.. That realization is spreading. Businesses and corporations of all sizes are implementing programs to reduce energy consumption and, as a result, are capitalizing on the economic advantages of energy efficiency. The federal government’s recently updated fuel and efficiency standards for cars and lights trucks, for instance, will greatly increase how far most vehicles travel on a gallon of gas.

However, that is not enough. When we realize that buildings consume 40 percent of all energy, then the need and capacity for greater efficiency becomes clearer. For businesses, efficiency means money saved, which can also mean increased freedom to invest in new opportunities, which in turn leads to job growth and greater success for all.
Where can we start? In Philadelphia, Philadelphia Gas Works’ EnergySense Energy Efficiency program has been expanding its extensive portfolio so that it now offers valuable rebates, incentives and grants to residential and business customers of all sizes that wish to reap the rewards of conserving energy.

EnergySense, a Public Utility Commission-sanctioned program, has $54 million available to support customers who are trying to lower their energy use and reduce air pollution. That’s money that goes right back into the pockets of home- and business-owning customers, money that supports – directly and indirectly – local jobs, and money that supports the Mayor’s initiative to make Philadelphia the greenest city in America by 2020.     

Other utilities, such as PECO with its Smart Ideas program, are also vigorously promoting energy efficiency. This program has been very successful, surpassing its targets and delivering savings of $8 per customer, for each $1 spent.

The city of Philadelphia is also on board with energy efficiency. Its Greenworks program has a six-year plan to retrofit 15 percent of Philly houses with insulation, air sealing and “cool roofs.”

Lawmakers, regulators, businesses and utilities are making it possible for us all to be more efficient. The successes are starting to mount up but we, as residents and as consumers, must play our part. There are programs and incentives to help, and significant benefits to be realized.

We can often be overwhelmed by the scale of the issue, but let’s realize that, to make a big, positive difference, we simply have to take care of our own energy use.

It’s within our control.

Joseph Otis Minott is executive director and chief counsel for the Clean Air Council; Steven Hershey is vice president for regulatory and external affairs for the Philadelphia Gas Works.

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