If the presidential debate is any indication, energy issues will top the list of to-dos for the next four years. But what will remain sidelined is energy efficiency, which can eliminate the building of new of infrastructure but which is also fraught with details that must still get resolved.
Both candidates spoke eloquentlyon Tuesday of how they would direct national energy policy, with President Obama emphasizing his desire to pursue sustainable energy sources while GOP-hopeful Mitt Romney is saying that fossil fuels would not be short-changed. But listeners heard almost nothing about energy efficiency and the gains that such technologies and conservation efforts could deliver.
“We’ve got to continue to figure out how we have energy efficiency, because ultimately that’s how we’re going to reduce demand and that’s what is going to keep gas prices lower,” President Obama told the town hall during the debate, while mentioning “energy-efficient cars.”
The Obama administration has put billions into technologies that are doing everything from weatherizing homes to making cars more fuel efficient to bankrolling the smart grid — all funding that has come from the 2009 stimulus plan. Romney, meanwhile, has said — but not during the debate — that government has a role in such development but he has not listed specific ways to do just that.
For its part, the utility world has benefited greatly from that stimulus. Nearly $90 billion in tax incentives, loan guarantees and government grants have been made available to it. Those are for weatherizing 600,000 homes and expanding renewable energy programs. The money — $4.5 billion — is also being used to build out the smart grid, which is allows utilities and customers to work together to save energy and increase reliability.
Indeed, a new study called “The $20 Billion Bonanza,” which was produced by the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, concludes that for every dollar invested in those efficiency programs, $2 in savings result for business and residential utility consumers. The report cites other benefits such as the avoidance of major capital expenditures associated with new power plants and even the retirements of some older and less efficient generators.
Obama ran in 2008 on revitalizing the national economy through public investments in transformative technologies. Those national programs would not only take the country to the next level in terms of how it produces and consumes energy but they would also serve to keep commerce flowing.
That’s a position in which Romney has been sharply critical. While the Democratic nominee is running on a platform of keeping the economy flush with cash so as to induce more business and consumer spending, the Republican plan is one of austerity. To that end, Romney is saying that not only that the country can ill-afford to maintain such spending levels but also that the “green” enterprises to which the money is filtering are ill-equipped to compete with traditional fossil fuels.
“I’m going to make sure that taking advantage of our energy resources will bring back manufacturing to America,” Romney said at the debate. “We’re going to get through a very aggressive energy policy — 3.5 million more jobs in this country. It’s critical to our future.”
It’s up to interpretation as to whether the phrase “energy resources” had any reference to energy efficiency. But during his years as governor of Massachusetts, Romney led a campaign to charge consumers more for their power usage during peak periods. He also wanted to enact energy-saving measures for homes and businesses, as well as state-owned buildings.
He has alluded to implementing such proposals if he is elected. But it is unlikely he would use the same level of federal resources as the president.
On the surface, energy efficiency is something with which both Obama and Romney can agree. But the nuances involved with such discussion are what can derail those policies: the technologies, the funding and the regulations. Resolving those issues will be an arduous process, meaning that the implementation of new energy-saving tools will remain a distant goal.