David Cook: We can cut $71 billion from our energy bill

David Cook: We can cut $71 billion from our energy bill

August 15th, 2012 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

Ten days ago, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield announced an executive mandate to reduce the city government's overall energy usage by 25 percent by the year 2020.

Soon after, thanks to The Associated Press, news of the mayor's energy plan traveled near and far, appearing in media throughout Tennessee as well as in San Francisco, Arkansas, Indiana and Dayton, Ohio.

I am proud of the mayor for such a decision. And once again, the Chattanooga story continues to echo and resonate across the U.S.

But it needs to get louder.

Two and a half years ago, seven researchers -- including Dr. Marilyn Brown, a TVA board member from Georgia Tech and Duke University -- published a study called "Energy Efficiency in the South." (I wonder if Littlefield read it.)

We Southerners love our energy. We use more energy than the rest of the nation -- 44 percent, according to the study -- and, thanks to enormous fossil fuel use, the South alone emits 41 percent of the nation's carbon emissions.

The South -- everything east of Texas and south of Maryland -- is the fastest-growing region in the nation, the study says, and southern energy consumption within residential, commercial and industrial sectors is expected to grow 16 percent between 2010 and 2030.

Yet the study is mainly positive, touting nine energy-efficienct programs that could transform the South.

"Carbon emissions across the South would decline, air quality would improve and plans for building new power plants could be downsized or postponed, all while saving ratepayers money," the study says.

According to the study:

• By 2020, the South would save $40 billion in energy costs; by 2030, $71 billion.

• By 2020, approximately 380,000 new jobs would be created; by 2030, more than 500,000.

• By 2020, more than $1 billion would be added to the gross regional product of the South; the figure doubles by 2030.

• By 2020, a normal household would save $26 on its monthly electric bill. By 2030, $50.

Of course, this is not free.

Here, the mayor promises an estimated $2 million a year in energy savings -- which should be channeled into a green fund for all future energy projects -- yet has not disclosed the initial upfront cost.

"Over the 20-year period, an investment of $31.5 billion would generate energy bill savings of $126 billion," claim the study's authors.

In the residential sector, the study also calls for updated and efficient building codes while touting an expansion of the weatherization assistance program. (U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann has introduced legislation to defund this federal program).

Within the industrial sector, the study calls for upgrades and improved processes at utility plants and "heat and power incentives."

Yet the best benefit-to-cost ratio lies in the commercial sector. Through more efficient standards for appliances and increased retrofits, every single dollar invested can lead to a four-dollar return in savings, the study claims.

The study, coming in at 180 pages, devotes several paragraphs to carbon pricing, or prices placed on greenhouse gases. Consider a carbon tax in Tennessee. If the state imposed a tax on the use of carbon (instead of taxing food, for example), we'd all pay, and some a heck of a lot more than others.

But if the revenue collected from such a tax were returned to the original payees to use to implement these efficiency programs, we could go a long way very quickly in creating an efficient and 21st century South.

In the meantime, congratulate Mayor Littlefield for a job well done.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.