Energy efficiency is a huge money saver — but the Trump administration is against it

Leaked report explains energy efficiency policies will save consumers $545 billion.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry, July 18, 2017. CREDIT: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
Energy Secretary Rick Perry, July 18, 2017. CREDIT: AP/Jacquelyn Martin

A leaked draft study of the electric grid requested by Energy Secretary Rick Perry found that federal energy efficiency policies are in the process of saving U.S. consumers and businesses more than a half trillion dollars.

Meanwhile, the new administration is halting energy efficiency policies and gutting funding for energy efficiency improvements for American homes. Perry’s department is currently being sued by 11 states for stalling efficiency mandates for air conditioners and other high-energy products.

Back in April, Perry ordered a study from Department of Energy (DOE) staff to back up his claims that solar and wind power were undermining the U.S. electric grid’s reliability. But a July draft obtained by Bloomberg debunked that attack. Instead, the authors found that “the power system is more reliable today” than ever.

After obtaining a copy of the draft, ThinkProgress reported the study concluded a large fraction of America’s aging fleet of coal and nuclear plants are simply not economic to operate anymore.

The study has a long discussion of why coal and nuclear aren’t going to become economic anytime soon. For instance, it’s increasingly clear that, for the foreseeable future, natural gas prices will stay low — and that renewable sources of power like solar and wind will continue the stunning price drops they’ve seen in the past two decades, which have upended the global power market.

Another key point of the study is that flat electricity demand growth — which the United States has been experiencing for a decade now — is also likely to continue.

Had demand kept growing at the 2.7 percent annual rate it did from 1970 to 2005, there might have been room for both cheap renewables and cheap gas along with more expensive coal and nuclear. But, as the report explains, the lack of demand growth made it harder for “less competitive plants” to survive.

Significantly, a major reason demand has flattened is federal energy efficiency policies, especially efficiency standards.

“Currently, about 90 percent of U.S. residential electricity, 60 percent of commercial, and 30 percent of industrial electricity consumption is used in appliances and equipment that are subject to federal minimum efficiency standards implemented — and periodically updated by — the Department of Energy,” the study says.

No good policy goes unpunished in the Trump administration, however, so California and New York are leading a coalition of states in a lawsuit to force DOE to publish five efficiency standards that were finalized under the Obama administration but were undergoing a 45-day review period (typically used for catching typographical errors and other minor problems, the Washington Post reported) when Trump took office. Six months later, the new administration still hasn’t sent the rules to the Federal Registrar to be published.

The DOE draft report, however, undercuts any rationalization Perry or the agency might have for stalling these energy efficiency regulations. “Between 2009 and 2030, these cost-effective standards are projected to save consumers more than $545 billion in utility costs“ and “reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by over 2.26 billion tons,” it says.

That’s a lot of money to save while reducing projected CO2 emissions growth. And that’s why energy efficiency is often called “the first fuel,” and why it has such broad support across the political spectrum.

Since the leaked draft was put together by career staff, it is subject to change by Perry and his team of Trump appointees. So the American public will have to wait and see if the Trump administration erases these facts in the final draft, the way they appear to be erasing so many other inconvenient truths.