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Report: North Carolina Can Boost Economy, Cut Utility Bills and Carbon with Energy Efficiency Efforts

September 23, 2020
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New and expanded policies to improve the energy efficiency of homes and buildings in North Carolina over the next two decades could restore jobs while saving $5.9 billion in electricity costs—equivalent to $565 for each state resident—according to a report released Wednesday by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

North Carolina faces the prospect of a continued recession amid the public health crisis. Many residents struggle to pay energy bills. Households in the state are behind payment on more than 1.3 million electric, gas, and water utility accounts, according to regulators, putting many at risk of having their service disconnected.

The new report shows how the state’s executive branch, legislature, utilities commission, and utilities can expand efficiency investments and policies to support economic recovery while helping ratepayers and protecting the climate. The measures analyzed in the report could trim the state’s growing electricity needs by nearly one-fifth by 2040.

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“When you get people to work weatherizing homes and retrofitting buildings, it saves folks money on energy bills and cuts greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution,” said Rachel Gold, report co-author and utilities program director at ACEEE. “The choices policymakers make now are going to determine North Carolinians’ energy costs and the air they breathe for decades ahead. The state can build on its energy efficiency progress and move aggressively to bolster the economy and create jobs while safeguarding public health.”

North Carolina has seen increasingly severe weather events such as hurricanes and flooding because of climate change. The state’s Clean Energy Plan, published by the Department of Environmental Quality in 2019, calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the electric power sector by 70% (from 2005 levels) by 2030. The ACEEE report finds that new and expanded energy efficiency efforts can contribute at least 11% of the needed reductions to achieve the state’s goal.

The report finds that a suite of energy efficiency policies and programs, based on stakeholder-driven recommendations, such as those in the North Carolina Energy Efficiency Roadmap and the state’s Clean Energy Plan, would do the following:

  • Reduce air pollution from power plants that contributes to heart attacks and respiratory illnesses, cumulatively averting $300-700 million in health harms, based on avoided deaths, hospital admissions, and lost work productivity.
  • Produce $2.30 in benefits to residents and businesses, on average, for every dollar invested.
  • Reduce electricity costs for households and business by $5.9 billion (net of costs) over the lifetime of efficiency measures instituted through 2040.

These findings underestimate the maximum potential of energy efficiency efforts as they do not estimate the reduced fossil fuel use in more-efficient buildings, nor examine all possible efficiency efforts, including those in the transportation sector.

The report recommends that North Carolina policymakers build on the state’s successful energy efficiency efforts and do the following:

  • Establish minimum energy savings targets for utility programs that help customers improve efficiency, including a requirement that at least one-fifth of the energy savings benefit low- and moderate-income customers.
  • Remove barriers to adoption of high-efficiency heat pumps for air and water heating and other uses.
  • Remove barriers to industrial facilities’ participation in utility-sponsored energy efficiency programs.
  • Expand efforts for communities traditionally underserved by energy efficiency programs, including rural, low-income, and renter families, and agricultural and small businesses.
  • Establish commercial property-assessed clean energy (C-PACE), on-bill lending programs, and a statewide nonprofit clean energy fund to support a robust private market for energy efficiency improvements.
  • Close loopholes in building energy codes, transition to more-ambitious codes in the coming years, and support code compliance.

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