$7.5 billion spent on utility energy efficiency programs in the U.S. and Canada in 2010

If you aren't familiar with ratepayer funded efficiency programs, you should be. In a nutshell, energy utility companies are required to use about 1 percent of all energy bills to increase energy efficiency. The utility companies provide programs and incentives, from free compact florescent light bulbs and cash rebates to home energy audits, training, education, and research funding to consumers and organizations. These initiatives are intended to directly reduce the amount of energy the participants consume. This is called demand-side management (DSM).

The Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) released its State of the Efficiency Program Industry in December 2010. The report focused on gas and electric ratepayer-funded efficiency programs from 316 utility programs across the U.S. and Canada.

According to the report, the U.S. and Canadian combined gas and electric efficiency program budgets reached a jaw-dropping $7.5 billion in 2010, and ratepayer funded energy efficiency programs estimated savings of approximately 104,000 GWh of electricity in 2009. This is equivalent to 75 million metric tons of avoided carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions or the annual emissions of 18 coal-fired power plants.

To put these numbers into perspective, consider that one metric ton of CO2 is released to the atmosphere for every 103 gallons of gasoline used. Using a car that gets 25 miles to the gallon, that's just a bit shy of 2,600 miles or about two months' worth of driving for the average American commuter. So basically, these ratepayer funded programs avoided CO2 emission equal to about 7,725,000,000 (7.725 billion) gallons of gas. (For the record, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. consumed about 137 billion gallons of gas in 2009.)

Pretty impressive, but what else could $7.5 billion buy to reduce energy consumption and cut CO2 emissions? Well $7.5 billion is a bit more than three times the $2.3 billion 2010 budget for the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. And as for CO2 emissions, that 75 million metric tons works out to cost about $100 per ton, not quite a bargain when a quick check of National Greenhouse Gas Offset providers show most of their retail products available for around $20 a metric ton.

So, how could we take better advantage of public utility funding and create more impactful, demand-side management programs? The money's clearly there. Let's use it.


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