Making energy efficiency a political winner—again!

November 8, 2012

Once a political poster child for economic recovery, energy efficiency took a back seat in the lead-up to the 2012 presidential election. President Obama and Mitt Romney barely mentioned the potential of energy efficiency to address the nation’s energy needs while campaigning, even though both have strong track records supporting it.

Why the silence? It could have something to do with the fact that energy efficiency has become a more politicized and polarizing issue in recent years. This polarization has less to do with energy efficiency, and more to do with larger political debates:

  • Growing anti-government sentiment often translates into knee-jerk opposition to public investment in energy efficiency programs or new regulations —no matter the benefits.
  • Energy efficiency policies have gotten swept up into debates about climate change and fossil fuel use and suffered from opposition to anything perceived as being part of the “green” agenda.
  • The continued economic recession has many elected officials and regulators shying away from energy efficiency policies that require additional investment or regulation.

The question is, how do we make energy efficiency a safe energy solution for both sides of the political aisle?

The story of energy efficiency is a powerful one, but often energy efficiency advocates focus on facts, figures and forecasts on energy efficiency measures without telling compelling stories of how these efficiency measures are benefitting Americans today. Yet we see some great examples of good storytelling:

  • Utah Clean Energy is working to tell stories of homeowners and home energy raters that have seen first hand the myriad problems – high energy bills, expensive repairs and drafty and cold/hot living spaces – with homes not built to the latest energy codes,
  • The Seattle Office of Sustainability and the Environment is promoting several case studies of building managers that are slashing hundreds of thousands of dollars off their energy bills each year thanks to benchmarking programs that alerted them to opportunities for energy savings.
  • The Institute for Market Transformation issued a report earlier this year highlighting the many energy service providers that are expanding their businesses and creating new jobs thanks to local benchmarking laws.
  • The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project helped save a refrigerator recycling and rebate program by focusing on how people and businesses would be impacted if the program didn’t exist.

It is real-world stories like these that clearly show the benefits of energy efficiency policies and programs – money savings, job creation, and economic revitalization – benefits that both sides of the political aisle are promising and want for their constituents.