Free Lance-Star op-ed on energy efficiency and the Clean Power Plan

Saturday, Oct. 6, the (Fredericksburg) Free Lance-Star published the below op-ed by Virginia LCV Education Fund board member Dana Wiggins focusing on the role that energy efficiency can play in reducing our carbon footprint under the Clean Power Plan.

 

Commentary: Saving energy is good for your wallet and the planet

By Dana Wiggins
Logic assumes if you use less of something, you pay less for it. The same goes for electricity.
Dana Wiggins

Dana Wiggins

More importantly, though, is that as our bills start going down, something much bigger happens: Our carbon footprint shrinks and, in turn, we begin to turn the tide against climate change, shielding our coastal communities from the harmful effects of sea-level rise and ensuring the air we breathe is free of harmful pollutants.
In August, the Environmental Protection Agency released its final Clean Power Plan, the first-ever regulations limiting carbon emissions from the leading source in the United States—the energy sector.
We have all heard about how this plan will result in new investments in clean energy and, overall, will change the way we get electricity by weaning us off of carbon-intensive fossil fuels.
While our energy landscape will certainly change for the better, individual consumers have the chance to play a major part in making the Clean Power Plan work for Virginia while also saving money in the long run.
According to a recent report from consumer watchdog Public Citizen, electricity bills across Virginia will be around 8 percent lower in 2030 compared to business as usual, saving families $135 to $147 annually. The report notes this is likely an underestimate based on numbers the EPA used in its calculations for Virginia that don’t fully take into account the energy efficiency measures that could be implemented here.
Improving efficiency is a quick, easy way to reduce electricity demand. As demand drops, our carbon footprint automatically decreases, making efficiency the easiest and cheapest way to do our part to cut pollution.
And it starts at home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating and cooling a home accounts for about half of a consumer’s monthly electricity usage, making it a prime target for efficiency measures.
In many parts of Virginia, air-conditioning use is a constant during warmer months. Simple fixes like closing off vents or doors in rooms you don’t use as frequently, a programmable thermostat, or just small increases in the temperature of your home when you aren’t there mean your system won’t have to work as hard during peak hours, saving you money.
DOE estimates that by combining equipment maintenance and upgrades with recommended insulation, air sealing and thermostat settings, consumers can save about 30 percent on energy bills while also greatly reducing overall demand for electricity.
“Zombie” energy loss—the small appliances and power cords that siphon energy, even while they aren’t in use—is one of the most preventable examples of energy loss in our homes. Unplugging electronics or using power strips to turn off such items until you need them helps prevent paying for energy that doesn’t generate any benefit.
While some newer electronics and appliances are equipped with energy-saving technologies, older appliances should be repaired and cleaned regularly to save energy when replacing them isn’t an option. Remember to clean the coils or vents on old refrigerators and replace the door seals to reduce cold air and energy loss.
Putting insulating covers or “jackets” on electric water heaters and pipes can help to prevent heat loss, which means you waste less energy reheating water again and again.
Also, waiting to run full loads in the dishwasher or loads of laundry at nighttime, or when you can avoid peak usage hours of 4–8 p.m., helps make energy available for everyone.
While even small lifestyle changes like turning out the lights when you leave the room or timing showers can be difficult to implement, using new technologies, such as motion-detecting light switches or a regulated flow shower-head, and the motivation of saving money can help us all have energy to power our lives well into the future.
Nobody doubts the Clean Power Plan will be a game-changer in how we generate and use energy. But by implementing small, easy efficiency measures at home, we can all do our part to ensure Virginia’s clean energy future. It’s what’s best for the consumer and the environment.
Dana Wiggins is the director of outreach and financial advocacy for the Virginia Poverty Law Center, a member of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s Executive Committee on Energy Efficiency and a member of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters Education Fund Board.

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