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California’s energy-efficiency programs not enough, NRDC report says

California’s efforts to reduce electricity consumption over the last four decades saved $90 billion on utility bills, created hundreds of thousands of jobs and avoided construction of 41 power plants, according to a report released Thursday.

And it’s not enough, the Natural Resources Defense Council said.

The NRDC’s findings highlight the success of the state’s energy-efficiency programs as a way to help curb pollution, a signature effort of Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration.

Report author Lara Ettenson attributed the state’s progress to building code changes and more efficient appliances. Going forward, she said, California must focus on the “challenging area” of reworking existing buildings to cut energy use.

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“We can do a lot more as a state,” Ettenson said. “Whole building energy efficiency retrofits are critical.”

California has consistently ranked in the top tier of states when it comes to energy-efficiency programs. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy puts the state at No. 2, behind Massachusetts.

Brown’s goal is to double energy-efficiency savings to 2030. To meet that benchmark, efficiency programs would have to save enough energy over the next 15 years to cut the state’s total electricity needs almost one-third and its natural gas use more than 10%, according Ettenson’s report.

Environmentalists and consumer advocates have long contended that energy efficiency is the low-hanging fruit in reducing utility customers’ costs. Ettenson said the cost for energy-efficiency programs ranges from 2.5 cents to 6 cents a kilowatt compared with 11 cents for a natural gas plant to produce the electricity.

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But some utilities across the country have balked at such statistics, including Duke Energy Corp., the nation’s largest utility. Last year, the Tampa Bay Times revealed that Duke and other utilities in Florida persuaded regulators to all but eliminate energy-efficiency goals, saying it was cheaper to produce a kilowatt than to save one.

“It is absolutely not surprising to me at all what is being said and happening in California,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a Tennessee-based environmental organization. Smith’s outfit unsuccessfully fought to prevent the reduction of Florida’s efficiency goals.

“California is the living laboratory for all of this,” Smith said. “Technology continues to advance. Technology and innovation do not sit still.”

The NRDC report, titled “California’s Golden Energy Efficiency Opportunity: Ramping Up Success to Save Billions and Meet Climate Goals,” said that in 2014, there were 300,000 jobs related to improving energy efficiency. Programs in 2014 through the end of this year will save another $2 billion, or about $85 for the average household, the report says.

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[For the Record: A previous version of this story said energy programs this year will save $2 billion; the date range began in 2014 and the story should have stated that it was an additional $2 billion.]

“If businesses are spending less on their energy, they have more dollars to save jobs with,” said Mary Solecki, Western states advocate for Environmental Entrepreneurs. “Households are able to redirect their own income into other goods and services. Efficiency makes good sense.”

ivan.penn@latimes.com

Twitter: @ivanlpenn

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