Energy efficiency: Some states perform better than others

The top states for encouraging energy efficiency are Massachusetts at No. 1 and California at No. 2, according to a clean energy research organization.

Both have strategies and programs in place to enhance the clean energy mix of their energy production and encourage a shift to cost-saving measures and clean energy. Their efforts have been followed, mimicked and analyzed many times.

But the bottom performers? Not so much.

"There is plenty of room for improvement," say Michael Sciortino, Rachel Young and Steven Nadel in "Opportunity Knocks: Examining Low-Ranking States in the State Energy Efficiency Scorecard." They work for the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, a nonprofit research and policy analyst.

The worst 10 states in promoting energy efficiency in descending order, with the last being the worst, are: South Dakota, Alabama, Missouri, West Virginia, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Kansas, Mississippi, Wyoming and North Dakota. ACEEE ranks the states according to policies and programs that advance efficiencies in buildings, transportation and industry.

While many states have improved over the past several years, these have lagged. The study is meant to provide direction.

The study points out that those interviewed "dwelled on the rate impacts of programs and little else." It also says utilities fail to see the practice as a resource, perceiving it more as a "societal benefit" and arguing that programs cost too much and "do not align with the utility business model."

Energy efficiency is considered the low-hanging fruit of a move toward sustainability and clean energy. It cuts utility bills significantly and is being adopted increasingly by the private sector as a core business practice.

In essence, energy efficiency practices (which include replacing light bulbs and other electric users with more miserly units) save money. And while it can cost a bundle up front, the payback is often quite fast. Sometimes it's a matter of a few years or months.

Other measures that could improve the low-ranking states' standings include improving building codes. This would slow energy loss either through preventing heat loss in winter or by retaining air conditioning in the summer. The study shows that the benefits of improved building requirements on a new home, which amount to an average $896.16, pay for themselves in less than 10 months.

The study also reports reluctance on the part of local governments to "lead by example." It provides a number of routes governments can take, including leveraging federal funding and on-bill financing.

Not all governments around the San Joaquin Valley were overly enthusiastic about energy efficiency retrofits just two years ago. Now, however, it's a different story. Many are moving to the next phase of renewable energy.