On Thursday, one of the nation’s leading experts in the field of energy efficiency spoke to a crowd of government and industry experts at Heifer International about Arkansas’ implementation of the proposed EPA rule on limiting carbon emissions, a topic that’s provided much fodder recently for state legislators and political candidates eager to condemn the rule as federal intrusion and a job killer.
Despite the grandstanding from elected officials, state agency heads have been convening stakeholder meetings with power companies, environmental groups and others. Neal Elliott, Associate Director of Research at the DC-based nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEE), said that Arkansas should be praised for its quick work in sketching a compliance plan to meet the carbon-reduction goals outlined by EPA.
“Arkansas is probably 6-8 weeks ahead of just about every state out there,” he said. “A tip of the hat to the [Arkansas] Department of Environmental Quality and the Public Service Commission for getting stakeholder meetings started early.”
Elliott said that according to ACEEE’s calculations, Arkansas could meet more than 40 percent of its carbon reduction goal by implementing improved energy efficiency measures on the consumption side of the power equation — as opposed to switching from coal-burning plants to gas and renewables on the generation side.
Energy efficiency is one of four areas in which states can meet EPA’s proposed mandate. The other three concern power generation and distribution, which is what’s fueling the cries of economic devastation from politicians and some in the business community — they warn of power plant closures, job losses and skyrocketing energy rates. (Randy Zook, of the State Chamber of Commerce said it’s “like giving you four knives to choose from to slit your wrists.”) Notwithstanding ridiculous hyperbole, states are effectively free to create their own path forward on compliance, as long as they show that the end result is less CO2 released into the air. Part of that formula is increasing efficiency — meaning anything from weatherized homes to greener building practices to less power-intensive manufacturing processes.
Elliott also noted that Arkansas (and other states) already has policies in place nudging homeowners, contractors and businesses towards greater energy efficiency. The Public Service Commission offers financial incentives to do just that, because it’s long been recognized that improved efficiency is a win-win. It results in lower electric bills for consumers, and lower carbon output in general.
As for the power generation side of things — ACEEE doesn’t take a position on issues of energy supply, said Elliott. “Whether you use gas, nuclear, coal, whatever — we think you should use it more efficiently,” he continued.
True true. There’s no doubt that increasing efficiency should be a big part of the puzzle. But let’s also not lose sight of the fact that meeting the EPA targets will indeed require some pain from consumers and — especially — from power companies; that’s where the remaining 60 percent of the reduction burden will come from. We’ve got to move away from relying on coal, and there’s no way around it. In the long run, that’s another win-win.
The next big step on this issue is the stakeholder meeting scheduled for Thursday, August 28th at ADEQ Headquarters in Little Rock.