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Minnesota regains a top-tier ranking for policies promoting energy efficiency

American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy
Minnesota typically ranks high among states for its investments in both clean energy and efficiency.

Minnesota has returned to a top-10 ranking among the states for its investments that promote energy efficiency, according to new national rankings by the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy.

The rankings are worth attention because ACEEE is a respected analyst as well as advocate on the subject of efficient energy use, consistently making the case that the wisest use of each energy dollar is not to spend it at all — and that every dollar invested in averting energy consumption can be worth several dollars invested in increased energy production, no matter how clean and green the source.

Or, as the organization puts it in the introduction to its 2014 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard:

Conversations about energy use in the United States often revolve around the need to support the growth of our national economy by expanding the energy supply. In fact, however, we have a resource that is cleaner, cheaper, and quicker to deploy than building new supply—energy efficiency. Energy efficiency improvements help businesses, governments, and consumers meet their needs by using less energy. Efficiency saves money, drives investment across all sectors of the economy, creates jobs, and reduces the environmental impacts of the energy production system.

In other words, whether you heat your home with natural gas or coal-fired electricity — or birch and oak you split yourself, for that matter — you’d be better off using less of it. And the planet would be better off, too.

Minnesota typically ranks high among states for its investments in both clean energy and efficiency. In fact, in the seven previous editions of the ACEEE scorecard, the state was in the top 10 in every year but 2013, when it fell to number 11.

But that was less a reflection of changes on the ground in Minnesota than in the methodology at ACEEE, which undergoes a little tweaking each year in a quest to derive the most meaningful year-over-year comparisons from a vast statistical thicket.

30 measures in 6 categories

ACEEE uses some 30 individual metrics aggregated into six categories of effort, and last year Minnesota’s overall score suffered from changes in the grouping called “Utilities and public benefits policies and programs,” which essentially reflects extent to which states induce utilities to promote efficient consumption.

Because the payoff from such efforts is so large, this category accounts for about 40 percent of a state’s overall score.

And this year, alas, Minnesota’s score in that category actually fell slightly —  but the dip was more than offset by improvements in the other five. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Utilities and public benefits policies and programs, 14 points out of a possible 20, down from 15 last year.
  • Transportation policies, 3.5 out of 9, up from 2.
  • Building energy codes, 4.5 out of 7, up from 3.
  • Combined heat and power generation, 1.5 out of 5, up from 1.
  • State government-led initiatives, 5.5 out of 7, up from 4.5
  • Appliance efficiency standards, zero out of two, unchanged.
  • Total score: 29 points out of a possible 50, up from 25.5 last year.

And here are a couple of excerpts from the report’ s narrative treatment of Minnesota efforts:

Over the past decade, the state of Minnesota has shown its commitment to sustainable buildings by providing leadership, setting high performance standards, and implementing an integrated framework of programs that provide a comprehensive system for designing, managing, and improving building energy performance. Beginning with aggressive standards for state buildings based on the long-term goal of having a zero-carbon  building stock by 2030, the state offers a complementary benchmarking program  for tracking energy use, and the Public Building Enhanced Energy Efficiency Program that  aids in implementing retrofits.

Minnesota also requires on-road vehicles owned by state departments to reduce gasoline consumption by 50% by 2015. Additionally, new on-road  vehicles must also have a fuel efficiency rating that exceeds 30 mpg for city usage and  35 mpg for highway usage.

In late 2012, the state of Minnesota in partnership with the St. Paul Port Authority launched the Energy Savings Partnership (ESP) program to provide local units of government and school districts throughout the state with low-cost lease purchase agreement (LPA) financing. Using ESP, local units of government and school districts are able to access LPA financing to invest in energy efficiency projects by leveraging the energy and operational savings attained through the improvements to fund the LPA repayment, thereby allowing projects to be implemented on a budget-neutral basis via the state’s Guaranteed Energy Savings Program (GESP) or the Public Buildings Enhanced Energy Efficiency Program (PBEEEP).

Notes from around the U.S.

Other points in the 2014 scorecard that struck me as notable:

  • No other state in the upper Midwest made the top 10, although Michigan came close at No. 12. Among Minnesota’s nearest neighbors, the rankings were, in descending order, Iowa at 14, Wisconsin at 17, South Dakota at 49 and North Dakota at 51, a feat made possible by ACEEE’s counting the District of Columbia as a state, too.
  • Despite its mediocre rating of 17, Wisconsin got special mention for most-improved score by climbing six points from last year. It share the honor with Arkansas, Kentucky and the District of Columbia.
  • Massachusetts held onto its No. 1 ranking for the fourth year running, having knocked California into the No. 2 spot in 2011 with its Green Communities Act, a program of leveraging utility investment in efficiency so strong that Massachusetts scored 20 out of a possible 20 points in the scorecard’s most important category,  the only state to do so.
  • Rounding out the top 10, in descending order, from California to Minnesota: Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, Washington, Maryland.
  • Receiving dishonorable mention for actually rolling back existing policies to promote efficiency: Indiana, which fell a full 13 points in the rankings, farther than any other state, to land at No. 40, and Ohio, which fell 7 slots to land at 25.

But here’s the main point to consider — across the country as a whole, the policies monitored and measured by ACEEE produced aggregate results including these:

Total budgets for electricity efficiency programs in 2013 reached $6.3 billion. Adding this to natural gas program budgets of $1.4 billion, we estimate total efficiency program budgets of more than $7.7 billion in 2013.

Savings from electricity efficiency programs in 2013 totaled approximately 24.3 million megawatt-hours (MWh), a 7% increase over the 2011 savings we reported last year. Gas savings for 2013 were reported at 276 million therms (MMTherms), a 19% increase over the 2011 savings reported in the last State Scorecard.

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The full, 180-page, statistics-laden ACEEE report can be downloaded here, as long as you’re willing to go through a brief registration process.

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