Herald-Leader Editorial

Energy efficiency, conservation paying off

January 2, 2014 

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Thomas Lingeman examined the fluorescent light bulb he was given as Kentucky Utilities performed an energy audit on his home in Lexington Jan. 15, 2009. The energy audits are available for KU customers. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff

PABLO ALCALA | STAFF

It doesn't make as snappy a slogan, but "conserve, baby, conserve" is as important to energy policy as "drill, baby, drill."

The annual energy outlook from the U.S. Energy Information Agency, or EIA, outlook makes this point. The heading on a chart that looks ahead to 2040 says, "Growth in U.S. energy production outstrips growth in consumption, leading to a reduction in net imports."

It's a reminder of the very simple concept that using less energy is one way to reduce dependence on foreign energy.

We've made some progress.

Looking only at electricity, the rate at which our consumption grows declined from 9.8 percent in the 1950s, to 4.7 percent in the '70s, 2.4 percent in the '90s, and 0.7 percent since 2000. The EIA said that electricity burned in U.S. homes declined in 2013 for the third year in a row.

Americans are, no doubt, more conscious of energy use because of cultural awareness, increasing costs and technological innovation, but a lot of this savings is a direct result of federal standards and policies.

For example, efficiency standards for major appliances such as refrigerators and air conditioners have helped drive improvements that have contributed to lower domestic electricity use throughout the past decade despite the ever-increasing number of plugged-in communication, information and entertainment devices.

Thanks to federal law, energy- gulping incandescent light bulbs have been phased out in favor of fluorescent and LED bulbs that use 70 percent to 80 percent less power. In fact, on Wednesday it became illegal to import or manufacture 60- and 40-watt fluorescents in the United States, a fate already suffered by 70- and 100-watt bulbs under a law signed in 2007 by President George W. Bush. And under the Recovery Act, billions of dollars, some in Kentucky, were aimed at retrofitting homes to improve energy efficiency.

Kentucky, a historical energy hog encouraged by cheap coal-fired electricity, has not done as well as the rest of the country. In 2011, the last year for which there are data, annual per capita consumption of electricity in Kentucky was 6,228 kilowatt hours, compared to 4,566 for the rest of the country.

So much of the debate about energy policy centers around how we will produce it: by burning something dug, blasted or drilled out of the ground, or something grown on top of it, or by capturing the force of the wind and sun.

But the real low-hanging fruit in energy policy is conservation. It's safe, cheap, environmentally beneficial and inherently renewable.

And we don't fight wars over it. It's good public policy.

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