By Laura Richardson
When the thermometer reads 10º below zero and four inches of poor insulation separates you from the bitter cold, you might consider what it takes to raise the interior temperature 70º to keep your home or business reasonably warm — and what impact that has on everyone else.
At a recent Business and Industry Association meeting, Democratic Rep. David Borden of New Castle noted that each year in New Hampshire we spend about $6 billion on energy, and we probably waste a third of that. I think his estimate is conservative; our buildings hemorrhage energy.
High demand combines with limited transmission capacity to make high costs, and these result in reduced productivity and layoffs. Yet some people complain that they could not stomach expanded public funding for energy efficiency, when they are already faced with exorbitant energy costs.
There is a direct connection between cost volatility for industrial energy users and demand spikes from other sectors. Improving the energy performance of residential, municipal and commercial buildings would mean less energy needs to be transmitted. In many cases a 50% reduction of energy use is quite feasible – which in turn would reduce energy demand system-wide, and thus reduce energy prices for everyone. There is no rate of return on wasted energy.
“There is no rate of return on wasted energy.”
New Hampshire has studied this problem for many years, with one study leading to another, but very little action. An effort to develop an energy strategy for New Hampshire, currently under way, should provide additional guidance on next steps. Certainly, ramping up energy efficiency efforts in buildings will be a key recommendation. Can’t we start working on it sooner rather than later?
Adding pipelines and transmission lines is not a solution; they simply provide a mechanism to waste more. Energy efficiency should be considered an energy resource. If we can better manage energy use, we don’t need to expand energy capacity. In many cases, it is less expensive to “buy” energy efficiency than to buy the energy itself. “Least-cost procurement” is a Yankee attribute we have so far failed to incorporate into our utility regulations and energy practices.
Our reason include saving money, reducing susceptibility to price volatility, Yankee frugality, national security, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, environmental benefits, improved comfort, efficiency-related jobs, economic development, and improved values of physical assets. Whichever your favorite reason may be – we need to stop wasting energy. Now.
How should do we do it? We should get past sticker shock and understand that what we do not spend on energy efficiency we will spend on energy. We are spending the same dollars. Only the energy efficiency dollars have a compounding rate of return.
Laura Richardson is executive director of The Jordan Institute, a Concord-based nonprofit that helps commercial building owners significantly reduce their energy use.