Obama, poker and what 2010 holds for energy efficiency

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By Elisa Wood

December 10, 2009

Jon Stewart said it best: Obama is a lousy poker payer. Lucky thing, too, for the energy efficiency industry as it heads into 2010.

Stewart’s December 8 “The Daily Show” aired a clip of Obama recently telling business leaders:  “I don’t want to tip our hand too much, but one of the things I would be surprised if we don’t end up moving forward on is an aggressive agenda for energy efficiency and weatherization.”

Tip his hand? In fact, as Stewart pointed out, Obama has shown that hand broadly to the world for the last year. Starting with his January 2009 inaugural speech, Obama buoyed the clean energy industry by advancing renewable energy, a first for a US president in that forum.  But that turned out to be just the start. In talk after talk this year, he pushed efficiency. If US voters didn’t know the term ‘weatherization’ before, they know it now. What could be better publicity for a product than having it endorsed by the leader of the free world?

To say 2009 was a banner year for the energy efficiency industry is an understatement. Under Obama’s watch, the federal government has channeled $20 billion in stimulus dollars to energy efficiency and now promises more from bailout funds returned by banks.

While the money – and Obama’s support – was the big story for 2009 and continues to be going into 2010, it is important to remember that electric energy is ultimately a local industry in the United States. What happens before state public utility commissions and regional regulatory bodies often has greatest influence.

To that end here a few local trends of 2009 that may grow in 2010.

*Efficiency as a first fuel. Environment Northeast has been successful in convincing several New England states to consider efficiency to be the first fuel in portfolio planning. That means when utilities plan resources, they must secure all cost effective energy efficiency before pursuing power plant development or power purchases. http://www.env-ne.org/

*Decoupling. Utilities have little incentive to encourage energy savings if they earn their profits from selling power. Decoupling changes utility accounting and cost recovery by delinking profits from sales. California and Massachusetts are examples of states with full decoupling and their utilities have among the most aggressive efficiency programs in the country.  Several other states partially use the approach; others are considering adopting it.

*Energy efficiency portfolio standards. Similar to renewable portfolio standards, EEPS require that utilities, and in some cases competitive retail suppliers, achieve certain energy savings goals. Federal proposals are under consideration for a national EEPS. That may or may not happen. But 19 states now have the standards; look for more to pursue the approach.

What else does the EE industry have to look forward to in 2010?  Please post what you see in your crystal ball.

Visit Elisa Wood at http://www.realenergywriters.com/ and pick up her free Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter.

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com. She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.