Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Energy Efficiency Could Boost South

Study: Energy Efficiency Could Boost South
GREG BLUESTEIN | Associated Press Writer

ATLANTA (AP) - An aggressive strategy to replace aging equipment with more energy efficient products throughout the South would reduce the need to build more coal-fired power plants in the region through 2020, according to a Georgia Tech study released Monday.

Advocates are taking the study, funded by the Energy Foundation and the Turner Foundation, to state legislators and regulatory agencies hoping it will bolster their calls for more incentives for energy efficient products as an alternative to new power plants.

"We're not saying that new plants aren't needed, because new plants can replace old clunkers that need to be replaced," said Marilyn Brown, a Georgia Tech professor who co-authored the report.

"But we don't need to build for an expanded demand if the Southern states would begin to launch energy efficient programs."

The study distilled 19 separate reports published across the region over the past 12 years. It found that better use of energy-efficient products could bring consumption 9 percent below the levels now projected for 2020.

It found that the South has been one of the last regions in the country to embrace energy efficiency programs and to foster a culture where consumers value energy efficiency.

It also found the South - which it defines as a 16-state area that extends from Texas to Maryland - accounts for 44 percent of the nation's total energy consumption. That's significantly more than the region's population share, which hovers around 37 percent.

The brunt of the energy efficiency upgrades would take place in the private sector. It advocates homeowners and contractors to install heat pumps along with efficient window treatments and insulation.

It urges the commercial sector to embrace new lighting standards and more efficient cooling systems. And the report calls for aging boilers and burners in industrial plans to be replaced with newer and more efficient versions.

The technology to make the changes already exists, the report said, but it will take a host of more aggressive incentives to prod residents and business owners into action.

And Brown said regional leaders have not yet show the "visionary investment" such as tax breaks and subsidies that other parts of the country have enjoyed.

Environmental advocates are already using the report's findings to push for those changes. A group met with utility executives a few weeks ago to discuss the study, and they have since fanned out to meet with lawmakers and regulatory agencies.

Ben Taube, the executive director of the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, said he is planning to discuss the report with business leaders and legislators at a conference in Georgia on Wednesday.

The challenge, though, will be proving that policy encouraging more efficiency can pay economic dividends, he said.

"What we have to overcome is how does energy efficiency compete?" Taube said. "We need to focus on how to encourage a utility to invest into energy efficiency and also recoup the cost and even turn a profit."

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