COVID-19 Slowed Down Energy Efficiency Progress in the US: Report

More US states adopted or advanced new energy-saving targets, but COVID-19 slowed other efficiency efforts, according to the ‘2020 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard’.

More US states have adopted or advanced new energy-saving targets and vehicle and appliance rules, but COVID-19 slowed other efficiency efforts, according to the ‘2020 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard’. For the first time in four years, California took first place nationwide, edging out Massachusetts, the leader in the Northeast. Other regional leaders include Minnesota in the Midwest, Colorado in the Southwest, and Virginia in the South.

The 50-state scorecard (which also includes Washington, DC) from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) found that states, many of which have set ambitious climate goals since 2018, had to abruptly shift their focus this year to mitigate the health and economic impacts of the deadly global pandemic. Across the country, energy efficiency workers lost jobs—with an estimated more than 300,000 still unemployed—pointing to the need for policymakers to help get them back to work. 

While some efficiency efforts stalled, others advanced before or during the pandemic. In top-ranked California, for example, utility regulators in January approved USD 45 million in incentives for high-efficiency heat pump water heaters, a crucial technology for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In September, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order calling for the phase-out of new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said “Energy efficiency has been a foundational part of California’s environmental efforts for the last four decades. Choosing to embrace a smarter way of using energy will save people and businesses money, and by leaning into energy-efficient policies we will drive new technologies, creating the economy of the future.  That’s why I’m proud that California is receiving this top honour from ACEEE, recognising not only the state’s national leadership but also the ongoing role energy efficiency continues to play as a key pillar in our economic health and our fight against the climate crisis. Good climate sense is good economic sense.”

US Energy Efficiency

Rounding out this year’s top 10, are Massachusetts (#2), Vermont (#3), Rhode Island (#4), New York (#5), Maryland (#6), Connecticut (#7), Washington, DC (#8), and Minnesota and Oregon (tied for #9).

The bottom five states, each earning 7 or fewer points, are Kansas (#47), Mississippi (#48), North Dakota (#48), West Virginia (#48) and Wyoming (#51).

“A number of states see that they have to act aggressively now to cut carbon emissions, but others just aren’t acting urgently. We need to see more states follow the leaders here, and quickly. Aggressive state policies combatting climate change are absolutely necessary no matter what gets done in Washington,” said Steven Nadel, ACEEE executive director. “In this pandemic and recession, policymakers can embrace efficiency efforts to help residents reduce their utility bills and to get more people back to work, all while cutting pollution.”

The report also highlighted top scorers regionally:

  • California, in the top spot nationally and the West’s leader, has long been a trendsetter for its adoption of net-zero energy building codes and stringent vehicle emissions standards. It has taken important steps to improve energy program access for low-income and disadvantaged communities and measure progress through energy equity indicators. The state has led the charge on vehicle electrification and has strengthened lighting and appliance standards amid federal rollback efforts.
  • Massachusetts (#2), the leader in the Northeast, continues to excel on multiple fronts, including advanced efforts to integrate and align efficiency rules with electrification and building decarbonization strategies.
  • Minnesota (#9), the Midwest’s leader, continues to report strong results from utility-run programs that help customers save energy and is developing draft rules for a Clean Cars program that would adopt California’s tailpipe and zero-emission vehicle standards.
  • Colorado (#11), the leader in the Southwest/Mountain region, is working on plans to meet statewide climate goals signed last year, which target a 90 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In September, Governor Jared Polis released a roadmap to meet those goals.
  • Virginia (#25), the South/Southeast region’s leader and a top energy story of 2020, adopted its first-ever energy-saving target—known as an energy efficiency resource standard (EERS)—and raised minimum funding levels for efficiency programs for low-income, elderly, or disabled individuals as well as veterans. It became the first Southeastern state to set a 100 percent clean electricity goal.

In each region, the report identifies a “state to watch,” where promising developments are emerging.

US Energy Efficiency

ACEEE found that a number of states have made efforts to foster equity in efficiency policies and programs. For example, multiple states, including California, New Jersey, and Oregon, have taken steps to expand programs for and better meet the needs of customers with lower incomes. Still, states can do much more to ensure that policy and program outcomes are equitable.

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Ayush Verma

Ayush is a staff writer at saurenergy.com and writes on renewable energy with a special focus on solar and wind. Prior to this, as an engineering graduate trying to find his niche in the energy journalism segment, he worked as a correspondent for iamrenew.com.

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