Attention Turning to Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Programs

Just two months after Congress passed a massive energy bill supporting increasing supplies of oil and gas, homeowners and businesses in the Northeast and Midwest are bracing for huge projected cost increases for natural gas for heating and electricity this winter, and are scrambling to find ways of conserving energy. Children have been encouraged by the U.S. Department of Energy to be on the lookout for “EnergyHog” in their homes, RedOrbit.com reports.

Although hurricanes Katrina and Rita disrupted supply temporarily, natural gas supplies were already low, and at current consumption growth levels, Americans are on track to use more oil and gas than can be extracted domestically or imported, according to RedOrbit.com.

State governments in some of the affected areas are looking to energy efficiency programs to maintain economic activity and growth, as well as investment in sustainable energy solutions. In Michigan, which imports most of its energy, Martin Kushler, of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), told the Michigan Energy Conference on October 21 that participants should imagine a train leaving the state filled with dollar bills, payments for Michigan’s energy, the City Pulse of Lansing, Michigan reported.

Wisconsin energy administrator Janet Brandt speaking at the same conference, highlighted conservation successes in her state through energy efficiency programs, partnering with retailers, trade unions and universities. The state’s arm of the program, the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation is funded by a ratepayer surcharge on energy bills, averaging $1.50 per month. Brandt said that the benefit-cost ratio of Wisconsin’s programs was 3 to 1, according to the City Pulse.

Kushner urged Michigan to adopt a similar approach. “I’m not talking about a tax," Kushner said, “with just 1 or 2 percent [surcharge on utilities] we could reap tremendous benefits for our state.”

Peter Dreyfuss, director of the Midwest Regional Office of the Department of Energy did not indicate in his comments that help would be forthcoming from Washington, the City Pulse reported. He said that the eight states he administers can become self-sufficient for fuel and electricity if they unlock their potential. “I’m from the federal government, and I’m here to get out of the way,” he said.

The federal government has played a big role in the past, David Morris of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said, citing legislation in the 70’s supported energy fuel-efficient cars, the City Pulse reported.

Ministers from the Group of Eight (G8) Nations met in London on Tuesday with representatives of 20 developing countries, including China and India, to discuss developing sustainable energy sources, and to promote cooperation between large economies and developing nations on energy solutions, AgenceFrancePresse reports. The World Bank and the International Energy Agency also participated in the talks.

Anticipating the United Nations Climate Conference to be held in Montreal from November 28 through December 9 when members will explore climate solutions to succeed the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012, representatives of the G8 and developing nations tried to emphasize technological solutions rather than setting specific targets.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, who made an appearance at the meeting, said the world needed to find “a better, more sensitive set of mechanisms to deal with this problem once Kyoto expires.”

“The solutions will come in the end, in part at least, through the private sector in developing the technology and science,” Blair added, according to AFP.

The World Bank, which has been asked by the G8 to develop a global framework for financing clean energy, has been accused of doing too little to promote renewable energy by Friends of the Earth, a pressure group, OneWorldUS reports. The Bank increased funding by only 7 percent in 2005, or $14 million, less than half its announced target of a 20 percent annual increase over the next five years. The Bank responded that along with the private sector and its insurance affiliates, it had provided $748 million in support for energy efficiency and renewable energy, OneWorldUS said.

The renewable sector is attracting $30 billion in investment annually, according to Chris Flavin, president of Worldwatch Institute, OneWorldUS reports. Norway gets 45 percent of its energy from renewable sources, and Sweden 25 percent. China is also a big user of clean energy – 35 million homes get their hot water from solar collectors, OneWorldUS reports. The United States depends on renewable sources for only 4.2 percent of its energy.

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