EPA urged to adopt stronger incentives for clean energy, energy efficiency in Clean Power Plan

This map ranking states based on their policies and programs related to energy efficiency, illustrates the huge opportunity for growth in energy efficiency throughout the Southeast. (© American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy)

As model carbon trading rules are finalized for the Clean Power Plan, SELC is urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to let energy efficiency and renewable energy compete on a level playing field with traditional monopoly utility power plants. SELC’s comments filed yesterday with EPA on the model trading rules outline how the Southeast in particular stands to gain from a better model framework.

The Clean Power Plan sets the first-ever federal pollution standard aimed at cutting carbon emissions from power plants, which are the main source of gases that accelerate climate change. The plan’s on-the-ground impact rests largely on its implementation by the states, and the model trading rules it provides offer an easy “off the shelf” option for states to meet Clean Power Plan goals. Southeastern states are likely to adopt the model rules, rather than craft their own, which means the specifics of those rules will greatly influence how much Southeast communities benefit from the Clean Power Plan.

“EPA has the opportunity to change energy incentives that have left the Southeast behind—as a region, we rank eighth in the world in carbon pollution, which has created a host of public health and environmental problems for our communities,” said SELC Senior Attorney Frank Rambo, leader of the organization’s Clean Energy and Air program. “But, as currently proposed, the model trading rules do not go far enough to support consumers’ freedom to lower their power bills through efficiency upgrades and home-grown solar generation.”

Most importantly, the proposed rules do not provide enough incentive for new energy efficiency and renewable energy investments, instead leveraging existing state programs and practices. This approach ignores that the Southeast has historically underinvested in energy efficiency and continues to lack strong state policies to encourage new investment. For example, 70 percent of Southeastern states rank in the bottom quarter nationally for energy efficiency efforts—despite the fact that our region has a higher percentage of impoverished and low-income residents who would benefit from energy savings.

In addition, the Clean Energy Incentive Program—an important tool for encouraging early investment in renewables and energy efficiency—will not actually provide any credits until 2020, which could have the unintended effect of delaying money-saving efficiency programs for some of our poorest communities.

“Given the higher rates of poverty in the Southeast, it’s important that we be able to meet Clean Power Plan goals through energy efficiency programs as much as possible,” said Rambo. “Low-income customers are too often forced to spend large amounts of their limited income on home energy bills, so energy efficiency programs offer families the greatest savings, while also creating good local jobs.”

Low income families in the Southeast spend a higher percentage of household income on energy costs than their peers: their energy spending is nearly three times the average for non-low-income households—9.6 percent compared to 3.2 percent. Additionally, the Southeast is home to over 56 percent of the manufactured mobile homes in the U.S., which use nearly twice the energy per square foot as single-family homes.

The proposed rules also contain unnecessary and burdensome obstacles to using solar power to meet Clean Power Plan goals, despite the unprecedented opportunity to support the growing solar market in the Southeast. 

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