Energy efficiency has been a buzzword for years now, and the U.S., despite an ongoing global conversation regarding energy conservation and climate change, continues to rank behind most developed nations when it comes to efficiency (the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Japan, France, and Australia all top the U.S.).
A 2013 report, however, suggests that at the state level, anyway, the nation is making substantial progress toward more energy efficient practices: many states fall within just a few points of each other in the most recent rankings, and several jockeyed for a place in the top 10, hovering just below the rankings’ top tier.
The state energy efficiency scorecard, put together by the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy, found that the U.S. is making rapid progress toward more sustainable and efficient energy usage. Of the 50 states, several have made huge improvements over the past year. Some states, though not listed amongst the top 10, have made such enormous progress as to be counted within their own category, “most improved.” These states include Maine, Mississippi, Kansas, Ohio and West Virginia, all of which have taken a number of legislative actions to improve their state’s energy efficiency in the past year.
The ACEEE energy efficiency scorecard ranked states based on “six policy areas in which states typically pursue energy efficiency: utility and “public benefits” programs and policies; transportation policies; building energy codes and compliance; CHP policies; appliance and equipment standards; and state government-led initiatives around energy efficiency.”
Here they are, the top ten states using energy most wisely:
This is the first year that Illinois has made it into the top ten in the seven years that the ACEEE has ranked states based on energy efficiency. The state racked up a total score of 26 points in the ACEEE rankings, an impressive 4-point gain over previous years. Illinois ranks high in the rankings primarily due to its energy efficient utility and public benefits programs and policies, the report found, though the state also added 5 points to its score for its energy efficient building codes.
Illinois rose four spots in order to take over the tenth place title, beating out former 10th place candidates from previous years, such as Maine, which ranked 10th in 2010, and Minnesota, which ranked 9th in both 2011 and 2012, and 8th in 2010.
Unlike Illinois, Maryland is no newcomer to the top tier of ACEEE’s rankings; the state has been included in the top ten most energy efficient states for three years now. The state scores high for its transportation policies, as well as its utility and public benefits programs and policies. In particular, the EmPOWER Maryland program, which provides financial incentives for homeowners and businesses to make efficiency improvements, has helped make energy efficiency a more affordable option by offsetting the initial costs of improvements.
Washington state scored highly in 2013 primarily because of its building energy codes and the state’s strict compliance to those codes. ACEEE notes that often states fall behind on compliance, even if their codes score well for energy efficiency; not so for the Evergreen State.
Washington has maintained its eighth place ranking from last year, and has been included in the top 10 for seven years running.
Vermont, another state which consistently ranks in the top ten, scored high marks for its utility sector energy efficiency programs, such as those provided by Efficiency Vermont, a nonprofit organization which provides rebates and other financial incentives to help lower the costs associated with energy efficient improvements and construction. ACEEE’s report notes that “Efficiency Vermont leads the nation in producing consistent energy savings.”
ACEEE notes that Vermont was a pioneer of the “third-party administration model of implementing energy efficiency programs, which has been replicated in many states, including Maine, New Jersey, Delaware, Oregon and the District of Columbia.”
The state’s ranking fell two spots, however, from the previous years’ rankings, down from number 5 as both Connecticut and Rhode Island moved up in the rankings.
6. Rhode Island
Rhode Island rose one spot in the rankings this year, up from number seven. The state consistently scores high for its utility sector energy efficiency programs, as well as its Energy Efficient Resource Standard (EERS), which the state has both “implemented and adequately funded.” According to the ACEEE an EERS “establishes specific, long-term targets for energy savings that utilities or non-utility program administrators must meet through customer energy efficiency programs.”
Rhode Island also won points with the ACEEE for its building and energy codes. Further, the report notes that this tiny New England state also possesses one of the most aggressive energy savings targets in the U.S.
Connecticut scored high in the ACEE rankings in part due to a number of statewide incentive programs; the study notes that Connecticut’s statewide incentives are targeted at a number of different sectors. For instance, the state’s grant program helps schools fund efficiency improvements to heating systems. The state also provides loans for energy efficient improvements as well as complementary energy efficiency evaluations to homeowners in residential areas of the state.
The Clean Energy Communities programtackles residential efficiency issues as well; the program “engages towns across the state to reduce their municipal energy use by 20 percent and sets goals and offers rewards for increased efficiency for both businesses and residents in a community.
Connecticut also won points with its utility and public benefit programs, which are some of the best in the nation for energy efficiency. On June 5, 2013, the state approved a bill which contains a number of different provisions related to energy efficiency. The new act requires “implementation of decoupling for gas and electric utilities, loan funding for residential energy efficiency, and mandates ‘tailored targets’ by having gas companies and electric distribution companies to create energy conservation plans every three years.”
It’s also worth noting that Connecticut is another long-time leader in energy efficiency. The state has made it into the top five spots for four years running; the state also rose in the rankings from number 6 the year previous.
Oregon takes the number four spot. The state scores high marks for its building energy code, which is even more stringent than the highest international standards, though the state also scored points for its wide-ranging government initiatives put in place to boost energy efficiency. In 2011, the state also adopted new, transportation-specific greenhouse gas reduction goals for six of its largest metropolitan areas.
Oregon also scored points for its appliance and equipment efficiency standards as well as its statewide policies on energy efficient heating and power, which are some of the most progressive in the nation. Additionally, the state boasts on the best state research, development and demonstration initiatives in the country.
3. New York
New York has made a number of different changes which have resulted in the state continually moving up the rankings from year to year, though the state has remained within the top five spots for six years now. In 2013, New York ranked third, and is the only state which boasts a concrete vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reduction score; in 2009, the state decided to reduce its VMT by 10 percent in ten years.
New York has also made a number of policy improvements with regards to public transportation; in 2009 the state passed a bill which directs a portion of profits made from vehicle registration and license renewal fees to public transport. Additionally, the bill created the Metropolitan Transit Authority Financial Assistance Fund which supports subway, bus, and rail service as well as improvements to those systems. The state also created a new “complete streets” program aimed at making New York streets accessible to all forms of transit.
The 2013 ACEE study also praises New York’s state research and development initiative: “the New York State Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is an outstanding model of an effective and influential research and development institution.”
Sunny California has hovered among the top two spots of the ACEEE rankings since the Council first began publishing the report seven years ago, and in addition to ranking highly on measures of energy efficiency, California also dominates the solar energy business, with six of its cities ranking in the top 10 for solar energy.
ACEEE notes that California ranks highly in a number of different categories, winning points for its strict renewable energy standards, its multiple measures to reduce vehicle-associated emissions, and its recent commitment to amping up the state’s public transportation and its appliance and equipment energy efficiency standards.
In 2008, the state passed a bill which requires that the California Air Resources Board finalizes targets for a 5-8 percent reduction in vehicle-associated greenhouse gases by 2020 for the four largest metropolitan areas in the state. The following year the state set into motion AB32, a bill signed into law in 2006, and which set a goal of requiring a 25 percent reduction of 1990 levels of greenhouse gases by 2020.
California has also passed legislation which address vehicle emissions: in 2009 the state passed legislation for a “clean transportation” program that includes funding for a hybrid vehicle voucher program for medium and heavy-duty vehicles such as buses and trucks. California won points for its stringent tailpipe emissions standards for cars and trucks, in addition to setting quantitative targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, the state’s California Transportation Development Act (originally enacted in 1971) provides for two different sources of funding for public transit, including the Location Transportation Fund and the State Transit Assistance Fund.
California and Oregon have remained in the top five spots for all seven years that the ACEEE has ranked state based on energy efficiency.
Massachusetts kept its place at the top of the rankings this year for the third year in a row; the state originally overtook California in 2011, and seems to have planted itself there. The ACEEE study notes that Massachusetts’ stellar energy efficiency rating is due in part to the effects of the Green Communities Act, which passed the state legislature in 2008. The study notes that, “among other things, the legislation spurred greater investments in energy efficiency programs by requiring utilities to save a large and growing percentage of energy every year through efficiency measures.”
Perhaps one of the biggest ways the Green Communities Act has boosted the state’s commitment to energy efficiency is the fact that, as part of the legislation, the state now “requires electric utilities in Massachusetts to purchase all available energy efficiency improvements that cost less than it does to generate power.”
Unsurprisingly then, the state scored high marks for its utility and public benefit programs, which remain some of the leading programs in the nation. The ACEEE report also notes that both Massachusetts and California rank significantly higher than other states in the top tier, with both states maintaining their number 1 and 2 spots in the rankings for 2013, despite a change in methodology from previous years. The state has remained in the top ten for six years now.