In 2010, I got tired of my house being cold and drafty. In researching how to make it more comfortable and economical to heat, I discovered that my gas furnace was inefficient and my attic insulation inadequate. Also, my house had many leaks. After I fixed each problem, my gas usage dropped 30 percent, and I even received a rebate from the local gas utility to help pay for a new high-efficiency furnace.
Missouri homeowners and businesses should embrace energy efficiency. Our opportunity is big because Missourians are wasting so much energy. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) ranked Missouri 43rd out of the 50 states for energy efficiency. In fact, an August 2011 study by ACEEE determined that a comprehensive energy efficiency program in Missouri could reduce forecast electricity use by 17.3 percent by 2025.
Energy efficiency provides a triple benefit: lower utility bills, less air pollution and more good jobs. Utility customers who make efficiency upgrades will see savings on their bills month after month. Because energy efficiency is the most affordable way for utilities to meet demand, even customers who don’t participate in efficiency programs will see savings on their utility bills. For example, my neighbor may not replace his old refrigerator with a new efficient fridge, but many of my other neighbors will. Together, those efficient appliances could reduce demand so much that our utility can avoid building a new power plant — a power plant that we would all pay for through higher bills. In that way, energy efficiency will keep down rates — saving money for everyone, even my neighbor with the wasteful old fridge. Of course, folks who do make efficiency upgrades will see the most savings. Families whose homes are weatherized can expect to save $437 on their first year’s utility bills.
Energy efficiency also will cut air pollution. By reducing demand, efficiency would allow us to retire dirty old coal-burning power plants. Burning coal fills our air and our lungs with soot, mercury and sulfur dioxide. In Missouri, 82 percent of our electricity comes from coal-burning power plants. Air pollution from just six of the coal plants in our state was responsible for 690 premature deaths in Missouri in 2011, according to the “Harvard Six Cities” study.
Beyond saving money and cleaning our air, investing in energy efficiency will create good jobs right here in Missouri. Skilled craftspeople who have been out of work could get back on the job weatherizing homes and installing efficient appliances. Like many other clean energy jobs, these can’t be shipped overseas. Because energy efficiency requires more labor than mining and burning coal, every dollar invested in efficiency creates more jobs than a dollar invested in coal.
But, you say, Missouri has some of the lowest electricity rates in the nation, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Our system is broken because we’re wasting — and paying for — lots of energy we don’t need. Although electric rates are low, our usage is high. If our cost per kilowatt-hour is low, but we use a lot of kilowatt-hours, we still pay a big bill.
In 2009, the Missouri Legislature passed a law to encourage utilities to invest in efficiency programs. Using this law, and with the prodding of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, Ameren will invest $147 million in efficiency programs during the next three years. Because Ameren serves almost half of all Missouri customers, this is a big boost for efficiency.
If you are an Ameren customer, I encourage you to investigate these programs, which were launched on Jan. 2.
Not an Ameren customer? Some municipal utilities, like Columbia Water and Light, and some electric coops offer energy efficiency programs. Customers in the Kansas City Power & Light-Greater Missouri Operations turf (the former Aquila and St. Joe Power & Light territories) will soon be able to participate in expanded energy efficiency programs.
It’s time for Kansas City Power and Light, Empire District Electric, and other utilities in this state to substantially expand their investment in efficiency, with programs as ambitious as those of Ameren. Please join the Sierra Club in advocating for every utility in the state to do its part to make our state more energy-efficient.
John Hickey is the Missouri chapter director for the Sierra Club, and lives with his spouse and children in Webster Groves.