Koch Empire Attacks Energy Efficiency

Guest Blog | October 1, 2014 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Utilities

Right-wing organizations, many of which are connected to Charles and David Koch, have now turned to attacking the cheapest, most modular, reliable, and zero-carbon resource – energy efficiency. One would think that conservation is conservative, but they would have us think again.

The long arms of the Koch Brothers, courtesy www.kochcash.org

The Koch Empire, with its vested interest in fossil fuels and the energy status quo, has continued peddling its anti-clean energy scare tactics, most recently by criticizing energy efficiency through online media. On Sept. 29, staffers from think tanks tied to the Koch brothers published two separate entries in the Wall Street Journal’s “The Experts” blog. Both use vague, misleading language to attack energy efficiency as a waste of time and money.

First among the Sept. 29 Koch-backed blogs, we have Ariel Cohen’s “Don’t Get Caught Up in the Energy-Savings Hype.” While he correctly points out that energy audits help to identify the most cost-effective investments, his overarching message is that efficiency is mostly hype, and you should be afraid that you will waste money (so why even bother?).

About an hour later, Todd Myers published “How We Misjudge Costs and Benefits With Energy Efficiency.” Myers argues that efficiency doesn’t make sense in the U.S. because we have cheap electric rates, and he speculates that “if our goal is to help the environment by saving energy, we can afford to be less picky, but it would probably be better simply to buy renewable energy credits or invest in carbon-reduction projects.” It’s hard to see on what basis he thinks carbon-reduction projects are a better investment for average consumers than home efficiency upgrades (or what exactly those projects are), but we can assume it is not cost-effectiveness.

It’s a good thing the Koch brothers are there to look out for the little guy; we were almost duped by the closely scrutinized cost-effectiveness findings from basically every electric utility, efficiency consultant and energy auditor in the world (the real experts).

Ariel Cohen is a senior research fellow at the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation. Todd Myers is environmental director at the Washington Policy Center. Here are a couple more links on Todd Myers and the Washington Policy Center, which Jack Kemp apparently referred to as the “Heritage Foundation of the Northwest.”

As usual, the facts don’t align with the Koch brothers’ agenda. Energy efficiency is gaining momentum because it makes financial sense. Utility-run energy efficiency programs lower bills for participating customers by reducing their energy usage, and they also keep rates low for all customers by reducing power plant fuel costs and mitigating the need for expensive new generating capacity. The utilities’ efficiency programs are overseen by state regulatory commissions and are subject to independent cost-effectiveness calculations for ensuring that the value provided to the utility system as a whole exceeds the cost (in other words, energy efficiency is cheaper than dirty fossil fuels). Many of the programs available to residential customers center around professional energy audits that provide customized reports on the most cost-effective efficiency upgrades for your home and the time it will take to recoup the cost of each recommended investment through energy savings.

The energy savings can be substantial, and there are increasing opportunities all across the country, even for those on a tight budget, to get in on the action. For example, through the Help My House on-bill financing program offered by rural cooperatives in South Carolina, participating customers have reduced their energy usage by an average of 34%. The program offers 10-year, 2.5% interest-rate loans for efficiency upgrades, and results in immediate net savings on utility bills. Factoring in the monthly cost of financing the efficiency upgrades, participants receive initial net savings of about $288 per year and are expected to save roughly $8,500 over 15 years, on average.

South Carolina's Help My House On-Bill Financing Program

When people save energy, nearly everyone benefits. Reducing energy usage is the best way to avoid pricey rate increases to pay for new power plants, and a recent study by the financial advisory firm Lazard confirmed that no generating technology can rival the cost-effectiveness of energy efficiency as a system resource. In addition to keeping rates low, energy efficiency creates a lot of local jobs. A report published by Southface, a Georgia-based building services organization, indicates that the energy efficiency and building sciences sector employed more than 4,100 Georgians full-time in 2013 and generated $1.3 billion in revenue in 2012. On top of that, the money people save on their utility bills is often reinvested in the local economy, fueling further job growth.

Energy efficiency not only yields economic benefits but also reduces our carbon footprint in the most cost-effective way possible. Thanks to the role of energy efficiency, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that its draft Clean Power Plan for reducing carbon emissions will save Americans about 8% on their residential electric bills compared to what they would pay without the plan. The savings don’t stop there. EPA also projects that every dollar invested through the Clean Power Plan will yield up to $7 in health benefits by reducing soot and smog.

As we noted previously on our blog, the Koch brothers-sponsored organization Americans for Prosperity recently released an ad taking aim at SACE and claiming we want to “outlaw cheap energy.” That couldn’t be farther from the truth, but the truth rarely gets in the way of a sensational attack ad.

In today’s world of heavily money-influenced politics and media, it’s more essential than ever to research the sources of any information you find.

Despite the efforts of right-wing think tanks, energy efficiency is here to stay. If you have not taken advantage of energy efficiency opportunities available in your area, I highly encourage you to visit your utility’s website (a partial list of SE utilities here) for details on how to take charge of your utility bill.

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