Posts Tagged ‘energy policy’

Breaking the dependence on oil

November 15, 2011

Maine Governor Paul LePage has recently called for a 50% reduction in the use of oil for heating in the state.   Maine is a heavy user when it comes to heating oil.  80% of our homes here are oil heated.  To cut that useage in half by 2014 is an ambitious goal, for sure.  LePage suggests doing this by switching to natural gas and wood pellets. 

There are efforts to move towards natural gas in the state, and I encourage it.  It won’t be fast, however.  While the distribution system is slowly growing, it is not there now.  As for pellets, they are readily available, but if demand for them increases so might cost.   Furthermore, most residential wood burning systems require the user to be hands on.  The pellets don’t fill the stove themselves, and the ashes don’t empty themselves.   This is the same reason why 80% heat with oil instead of wood, also abundant in the Pine Tree state.

What is missing in this discussion is our dependence on BTU’s.  In other words, the focus should be on energy use, first, not fuel source.   Switching fuels doesn’t solve the problem of inefficient leaky homes heating the great outdoors.  It’s like an addict going from one fix to another because it’s cheaper, and they can get more for less.   Fuel switching is treating the symptom and not the problem. 

Weatherization efforts, increased efficiencies of heating equipment, and fuel switching when it makes sense, can have a much greater impact, and a much lower long term cost, than fuel switching alone. Efficiency Maine and the many contractors who have worked with these programs have been chipping away at this.  Tux Turkel from the Maine Sunday telegram reported recently, “Maine residents slashed their heating oil use by 45% between 2004 and 2009.”  We routinely save people that much off of their oil bills.  Governor, we can do this, but let’s treat the real problem and break our dependence on wasteful heating.   

Photo by David L Ryan

How does your state rank in Energy Efficiency?

October 28, 2011

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy released its 2011 state energy scorecard.  The ACEEE explains: “energy-efficient states have two primary traits: 1) a policy and regulatory environment that enables the efficient use of energy; and 2) successful performance investing in programs that save energy.”

Massachusetts for the first time is number one, unseating the long standing California.  It’s nice to see that Greenhomes America is part of all this with locations in many of the top ranking states.   

Look here to find out how your state ranked and some of the details that put them there.



Occupy…St. Louis?

October 28, 2011

We all know that energy-efficiency is a way to shrink utility bills.  Aggregated, energy-efficiency means we don’t have to pay for as money power plants or as costly distribution upgrades (oddly enough, power lines aren’t free—we pay for them).  The rub is that utilities make money selling electricity, and generally they don’t make money selling less electricity.

And thus, it’s not surprising, although it’s surely disappointing, to read that Ameren Missouri is slashing its efficiency spending by 70%.  Better for them to build more power plants that they charge us for, and sell us more electricity.  We get whacked twice, with higher rates and the same or higher usage.  People and companies deserve to profit from their investments–but it sure smells better when someone else benefits, too. 

Saving energy at home saves you money at home.  When a lot of us do it together, we save even more, because we avoid the costs of new power plants and power lines (and dirty air and dirty water).  Unfortunately, as individuals, we don’t get to decide who the public good is protected from Ameren’s short-sighted behavior.  We need our elected officials to make smart decisions there (someone should start an office pool on that one!).  But we can take steps to insulate ourselves from activities like Ameren’s in Missouri.  We can slash our own utility bills, and invest in our homes and our futures instead of Ameren’s.  That we can start doing today.  The rest, well, we may have to wait until election day…although I do wonder what a tent would like on Ameren’s front lawn. 


Gas closes in on $4 per gallon. Surprised? Ready?

April 25, 2011

Gas prices well above $4/gal. in California

History repeats itself with startling regularity in this country.  Case in point, energy prices.  The national average at the pump is approaching $4/gallon.  And it’s considerably higher in places like California.  Politicians of many stripes are claiming they are shocked this is happening and that something must be done.  The Obama administration is investigating fraud and abuse in the oil markets.

But the real trouble is that we have a pathetic energy non-policy in this country.  And as such, we’re at the mercy of energy price bouncing up and down on the world markets.  And bounce they do, but with a general upward trend.

Oil and gas price data from
Oil and gas price data from

Politicians fiddling, or feigning shock as prices rise, won’t really protect you.  Perhaps someday the pols will recognize some basic Econ 101 principles, when demand rises and supplies don’t, prices go up.  Add some market risk and uncertainty from say unrest in the Middle East, natural disasters like hurricanes, or man-made disasters like the spill in the gulf, and they rise more.

And home energy prices in the long term do the same.  Some regulated utilities like electricity and natural gas take a bit longer to change.  Others move more or less lockstep with oil prices.  Remember just a few short years ago when heating fuel and propane soared to over $4 per gallon, and other utilities followed suit?  Are you ready for this?  Had your home energy assessment?  Made the improvements?

I’m not holding my breath that as a country we’ll figure out how to productively address energy policy.  But that doesn’t mean you are helpless.  You can make choices.  You decide what and how you drive.  You decide whether your home is an energy hog (and not as comfortable or healthy as is could be). 

Very few people, if any, can control world energy prices.  A government panel isn’t going to do it for you.  So, as energy prices rise, we can pretend we didn’t know it was coming.  And suffer the consequences.  Or we can take steps to improve our homes—and insulate our personal finances against rising energy prices.

Home energy vs. auto fuel costs, its a tie!

April 19, 2011

Maybe post-tax deadline some of us have had a closer look at our household budget.  Something that should be revealed for many us over the past few years is a recent shift in where our money goes.  Since 2009, Consumer expenditures for home energy (electricity, natural gas and fuel oil and other fuels) has matched expenditures on gasoline. This comes from a March report from the Consumers Federation of America titled  Public Attitudes toward Energy Efficiency and Appliance standards: Consumers see the Benifits and support the standards.

The survey from the organization that has researched consumer opinion of auto and fuel usage over the years has discovered that we have interest in improving the appliances we use in the home for the same reasons we have concerns for fuel efficiency for vehicles.  Energy Efficiency and the drain on our household budget is part of it but so is dependency on imported oil. It has been proven with cars that we will invest for the long term if the paybacks are reasonable and now the same goes for appliances in our houses.

As we have seen the price of oil swaying in the breeze of political and economic instability, the cost of heating fuels has not done the same, yet. More and more these costs are becoming intertwined.  When we try and get away from our dependence on foreign oil by moving to electric vehicles, what demands will be placed on our grid?  What an opportunity to reduce our dependence on oil by reducing our load on the home.

The survey focuses on appliances. This is a good start, but misses the importance of the interaction with the home itself.  We have written about LED lighting  and the need for better appliance standards, but the big driver in all of this is the building envelope, and for some there are greater gains in fixing the building before investing in the appliances in them. 

The survey is a call to arms for policy makers since homeowners have spoken.  Increasing efficiency requirements for appliances is a good place to start.  Let’s take it one step further make sure our houses are in order for those appliances to do their best.

The Ant and The Grasshopper

March 9, 2011

Europe is proposing investing aggressively in efficiency in large part to minimize the impact of rising energy pricings and to reduce emissions.

And we’ve talked about the Chinese doing the same.

But here in the U.S., where we use more energy per capita than any other developed country—and thus are much more susceptible the perturbations in both supplies and prices—we can’t get together a cohesive energy plan.  And we shovel dollars into chimneys and smokestacks.

If you live in the Northeast—heating oil country—you should be quite worried about trends in oil prices.  It was only two and a half years ago that many homeowners were freaking out about heating oil costs in the $4-5 per gallon range.  We’re heading back in that direction.  Should unrest spread to Saudi Arabia, even that will look cheap.  And regardless of where you live, does anyone (other than EIA) think the price of electricity will go down (especially as we start using more of it to power our vehicles)?

I’m reminded of the fable of the ant and the grasshopper.  While the ant prepared for the winter, the grasshopper sang and danced.  Come winter, the results were predictable, the ant prospered while the grasshopper starved.  Well, metaphorically speaking, it’s late fall, and we’re looking a whole lot more like the grasshopper.

Ironically, we already know what needs to be done on the energy-efficiency.  We certainly have the technology and skills to take big strides forward right now.  If our “leaders” won’t act on behalf of the country, we’d better take action at the individual level and get our own home economics in order.  If you don’t want to be susceptible to the volatility on the world energy markets,  you should make yourself less dependent on energy.   And the good news is that you can start with investments that actually reduce the money you burn every week with air leaks, poor insulation, leaky ducts, and antiquated equipment in your home.   Start taking the steps today to protect your family tomorrow.

It’s time to ant-up.


Spencer Abraham–We need good energy policy

January 22, 2011

At our GreenHomes  continuing education conference yesterday, we had the opportunity to hear from from Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.  Among other things, he discussed his book, Lights Out!,  Some good nuggets.  While you may or may not agree with all his conclusions or recommendations, he does point out the tremendous urgency we face to change the way we think about energy in the U.S. and get serious about it.

And last month, we heard a similar story from current Secretary, Steven Chu, and his discussion of an energy “Sputnik” moment.

A Bush-era appointee and an Obama appointee both highlighting the need to act quickly with a smart energy policy.  Some of their specifics differ.  But there is huge overlap.  And I’ve personally heard both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate echo the same sentiments.  And yet, on what should be a strong bi-partisan–indeed, non-partisan–national priority item, Congress can’t seem to take action.  Let’s hope that changes in the 112th.


Pickens criticizes API report

January 5, 2011

As reported by Rod Walton in Tulsa World, T. Boone Pickens, criticized the latest energy report by the America Petroleum Institute (API).  

“No one should be fooled by this report or surprised by its focus,” Pickens said in a statement after API President and CEO Jack Gerard’s address at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. “This is, after all, a group that includes and represents foreign oil companies, interests and holdings.

“The API ignores the fact that you cannot address the national security and economic threat of OPEC dependency without focusing on transportation; that accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. oil use.”

One things for certain–we really don’t have a cohesive energy policy in this country.  Here’s hoping for change in 2011?


Secretary Chu cites a “Sputnik Moment” for energy policy and clean energy development

December 4, 2010

Following the thread of my post yesterday, I wanted to point you to an address at the National Press Club by Energy Secretary Chu.  Chu pointed to recent clean technology successes by China and other countries as a “Sputnik Moment” for the U.S.  We don’t can to sit back and do nothing and maintain a leadership position.  Indeed, on energy, we’ve already fallen behind in important areas.  As Chu indicated, we need to see what’s going on and marshall American ingenuity, strength, and can-do spirit to create cost-effective clean energy technologies–and I’d emphasize increasing efficiency–to power our country and drive our economy through the next century.  We should be hungry.  The Chinese and others have already started to eat our lunch on this front.


CEOs tout a smarter energy policy–including efficiency

December 4, 2010

Think it’s just tree huggers looking for good energy policy?  Think again.  And check out the energy discussion from the WSJ’s CEO Council.  Not just Birkenstocks, but expensive suits and ties.  They offered some interesting tidbits, including:

  • “We need to wean ourselves off foreign oil”
  • “We need consistency.” and “We’re looking for federal leadership here.”
  • “you don’t see, to the extent you really need to see, American products being aggressively pushed around green power, alternative energies.”
  • “We saw energy efficiency as something that could help our economy lower costs for customers but also, through leadership in energy efficiency, create opportunities to sell technology and products overseas”

I certainly wouldn’t agree with everything as discussed.  But businesses recognize they’ll increasingly rely on a sound and stable energy policy, including efficiency.  And consumers and home owners will, too.  Let’s hope the new Congress doesn’t fiddle while we get burned.  But let’s also start our own sound energy policy at the individual level, including in our homes.


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