Saving Money Is Easy When You Cut Energy Use

There are only two ways to make money: earn more or spend less. The latter is a much easier goal to obtain than the former. Which is why we at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization are so keen on improving energy efficiency.

The San Joaquin Valley, with triple-digit temperatures in the summer, has incredibly high energy bills. Mine is the second-highest expense behind my mortgage. If I cut that, I can pay down debt, buy that flat-screen TV my wife wants, invest in my daughter's college education or otherwise stimulate the economy.

Upgrading lighting and performing other energy-efficiency upgrades reap maximum benefit at minimum cost, and are effective. University of Chapel Hill and the owners of the Empire State Building realized robust savings from upgrades, and, as this recent blog item says, studies show that commercial retrofits can cut energy costs in the U.S. by billions of dollars.

With savings like these, companies could hire employees, become more productive or grow business. It is, as corporate America is fond of saying, a "win win."

But how do we pay for these programs? The tax bill signed by President Obama on Friday extends some energy-efficiency incentives, including a tax credit for installing more efficient windows and doors, but much more is needed.

The recession has shattered budgets of households and municipal governments. Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs, which use property taxes as a financing mechanism, were stalled after federal officials argued against them, saying they increased the risk of homeonwer defaults.

Never mind that the upgrades would decrease power bills, reduce household expenses and actually lessen the default risk - and potentially increase property values.

Common sense and logic sometimes get lost in partisan politics, but efficiency appears to be gaining momentum in some circles. It already is a major plank in Jerry Brown's energy platform in California, and green tech researcher Pike Research is optimistic.

I'm hopeful that energy efficiency will become so important in 2011 and beyond that more innovative financing mechanisms develop. The low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency is ripe for picking.

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