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Wednesday, July 16, 2008 12:56 pm

Three steps

Cutting energy consumption doesn’t have to be painful, but it’s necessary

Untitled Document The United States of America uses approximately 20 percent of all energy generated worldwide. Per unit of economic output, our economy is twice as energy intensive as Germany’s and nearly three times as energy intensive as Japan’s. Our buildings alone are responsible for nearly half our energy use — that’s almost 10 percent of all energy used across the planet. Staggering numbers? Definitely, and the associated consequences are immense. Such massive energy production increases global-warming pollution and fills our skies with toxic chemicals that endanger our health. Energy consumption is an enormous expense, suffocating economic growth through skyrocketing monthly utility bills for businesses and families. We cannot continue down this path — and the good news is that we have the tools to get more efficient immediately. A new paper released by Environment America details how we can reduce energy use through vastly increased efficiency in our buildings. The paper, “Building an Energy Efficient America: Zero Energy and High Efficiency Buildings,” outlines the remarkable gains available through improved building design, more efficient lighting systems, and new technologies for space conditioning.
With 75 percent of our buildings targeted for construction or renovation by 2035, there’s a tremendous window for change. Aggressive weatherization of homes, combined with installation of high-efficiency furnaces and air conditioners, reduces energy consumption for space heating and cooling by 20 to 40 percent or more. Similar savings are available for energy used in water heating (through the use of tankless and solar water heaters), lighting (through the use of energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps and light-emitting diodes, or LEDs), and many appliances. Becoming more energy efficient makes economic sense, too. Every $1 spent on energy efficiency saves, on average, $3 on customer energy bills. One quad of energy (a quadrillion BTUs, approximately 1 percent of total U.S. energy production) gained through investment in building efficiency would cost $42.1 billion — a significant amount, but not in comparison to the $122 billion to deliver this much energy by building new coal plants. U.S. Sen. John McCain talks about building 35 new nuclear plants, but delivering a quad of energy through new nuclear power would cost an astounding $222 billion.
That great untapped clean energy resource? It’s getting more out of the energy we already create.
But we can’t get there without if our politicians don’t step up to the plate. They must tackle this problem by taking the following steps: First, the national model building energy code must be strengthened. Every three years, code officials meet to develop new guidelines for the latest code. The latest meeting is scheduled for September. A coalition of groups — from the U.S. Department of Energy to the Consumer Federation of America — has endorsed the “30 Percent Solution,” a 30 percent strengthening of our model code. If mayors are serious about reducing needless energy consumption, they will tell their code officials that the 30 Percent Solution must become part of the model code, and they will work diligently to enforce the code once it’s approved. Second, strong energy codes must be adopted nationwide. Although 18 states have adopted the latest model code for new residential construction, states such as Illinois have no statewide standard. Legislation to create efficiency standards for new residential construction passed the Illinois House by a 109-5 margin and Senate by a 55-0 margin, but, as a result of squabbling between House and Senate leadership, never became law. If our state government’s leaders are serious about energy efficiency, they’ll put petty differences aside and turn this bill into law.
Third, national tax incentives for clean and renewable energy must be extended and enhanced. Many of these technologies, such as solar photovoltaic panels, are used by buildings on-site to produce energy and offset consumption. Stunting the growth of promising technologies by removing incentives for their development, adoption, and use would mark a giant step backward when we must move full speed ahead.
Cutting energy consumption doesn’t have to be painful, and increased efficiency in our buildings is a great start. The solutions are there. It’s time for our leaders to carry them forward.

Brian Granahan is a staff attorney with Environment Illinois. He and state Sen. Mattie Hunter were co-authors of “We must do better,” published in the May 1 edition of Illinois Times.
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