Advocacy report pushes energy efficiency for jobs, savings - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Advocacy report pushes energy efficiency for jobs, consumer savings

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Three advocacy groups are teaming up to promote an effort to reduce the footprint of energy production but in a way they say will create jobs and save consumers money.

The Sierra Club, Energy Efficient West Virginia and the West Virginia Citizen Action Group came together to share the results of a report completed by Optimal Energy, a Bristol, Vt., company. The title of the report was "Save Money, Create Jobs: How Energy Efficiency Can Work for West Virginia."

"Energy efficiency creates a win-win situation. It puts money back in the pockets of our citizens and it creates jobs," said Stacy Gloss, project manager of Energy Efficient West Virginia. "Investing in efficiency is also more cost effective than investing in expensive power plants."

Gloss said residents of West Virginia are paying more on their electric bills than they used to and it has nothing to do with using more electricity.

"The years of cheap electricity are over," Gloss said. "The Sierra Club/ Optimal Energy report outlines a real opportunity for our state to reverse rising electric rates or hold them steady."

The report concludes that energy efficiency efforts in West Virginia has potential to create about 19,500 jobs and save consumers a total of $800 million over the life of the efficiency investments.

"Instead of charging homeowners and businesses hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire new power plants, West Virginia's utility companies could actually lower customers' electricity bills and create thousands of new jobs by investing in energy efficiency," said Bill Price, organizing representative with the Sierra Club. 

West Virginia was ranked near-last by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy for various measures of energy efficiency investments. The state's top two electricity generators, FirstEnergy and American Electric Power, the efficiency advocates said, are already leading the way on efficiency efforts in Ohio.

According to the report, West Virginians could save up to 250,000 MWh per year above the utilities' proposals. Total electric consumption, the Optimal Energy report states, could be reduced 1.2 percent per year. That energy savings, authors write, is a conservative estimate.

Over four years, that is about $800 million in savings.

"The net result of this study is that our current efficiency programs are woefully inadequate compared to what is achievable," said Jim Kotcon, chairman of the energy committee for the West Virginia Chapter of Sierra Club.

"The West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) is to be commended for their decision Monday in a case to lower electric rates for First Energy consumers, and their willingness to respond to the hundreds of West Virginia citizens that commented," Kotcon said. "Comments from citizens overwhelmingly favored energy efficiency as a better way to meet electric energy needs, and we hope that the PSC will require West Virginia utilities to adopt the maximum achievable energy efficiency programs for West Virginia's ratepayers.

Kotcon said he was surprised by the number of jobs efficiency could create in construction, electrical work, manufacturing, appliance sales and other jobs across a broad category. Gloss said many of those jobs require skills many in West Virginia already have.

Gary Zuckett, executive director of the West Virginia Citizen Action, said that in addition to keeping prices low, energy efficiency initiatives create jobs that can't be exported.

"Citizen Action began advocating for Energy Efficiency back in the 1980s," Zuckett said. "It was an important issue then after the shock of the first oil crisis, and it's a critical issue now as energy prices continue their upward spiral and concerns on climate effects abound."

Kotcon said they have tried to push legislation in previous years, but unsuccessfully. He said at this point, groups will most look at the regulatory body of the PSC on energy efficiency decisions.