Op-Ed: If Congress Cuts Energy Programs, We’ll Be Stuck with the (Higher) Bill

Jeff Hendler | March 7, 2018 | Opinion
Federal investment in energy efficiency are good for consumers, businesses, and the environment. Cutting that investment would not be smart

Jeff Hendler
Later this month Congress will face a deadline to decide which programs to fund and which to trim for the remainder of the fiscal year. If the plans presented so far are any indication, there may be trouble ahead for New Jerseyans when it comes to energy bills and the environment.

A key issue Congress must decide in its final deal concerns how much energy we waste. Many New Jerseyans pay high energy bills because too much of their heat is leaking straight outdoors. The question now is whether Congress will help or hurt on this issue in its spending plan.

In the last several decades, we’ve made big progress as a nation on throwing away less energy. We increasingly use LED lightbulbs, which use 75 percent less energy to produce the same amount of light. We have new washing machines that use 20 percent less energy than old ones. Our buildings are better insulated, meaning less energy needs to be devoted to heating and cooling. We’ve also made progress deploying combined heat and power technologies — which generate electrical and thermal energy from a single fuel source, potentially doubling efficiency over traditional power-generation methods.

Compared to 40 years ago, we’re doing much better: For every unit of energy produced, we’re getting twice as much economic output. That’s tremendous.

Trump administration wants cuts

But we still unnecessarily waste a tremendous amount of energy, which is bad for business, wastes money, and contributes to air pollution. And we’re at risk of hindering all the progress we’ve made if lawmakers take the wrong track now. Congress needs to fully fund the critical efficiency programs that the Trump administration has proposed to cut.

Our progress on energy efficiency didn’t just happen by itself. Government policies have supported that innovation in several key ways, enabling companies to compete with each other to make products that use less energy, spurring innovation.

The Department of Energy conducts and sponsors some of the most important research that helps create energy efficient products and efficient manufacturing techniques. Those technologies are then put to use in the private sector — benefitting both the producers and the consumers.

The federal government also provides technical support to construction project developers and energy service companies to help spur energy savings. It makes a difference, and I can say that firsthand: my company provides energy-efficient building systems. My firm also utilizes battery storage to enhance solar reliability, and incorporates electric vehicle charging into buildings. Government-sponsored research (particularly ARPA-E) has helped make these innovations possible.

Federal role is key

The DOE also provides expertise to communities. It is hard for state and local building codes to keep up with the constant innovation in new efficiency technologies and approaches developed every day. That’s why the federal government needs to continue tracking, analyzing, and helping communities respond to the availability of new energy efficiency solutions.

The EPA also plays a role, helping developers and contractors like us to implement combined heat and power systems in buildings that save our clients’ money. Buildings with such on-site generation systems are also safer during disasters, because the electricity keeps running even when the grid is out. This even reduces the budgetary strain on first responders and disaster recovery programs, ultimately saving taxpayers money.

Lastly, the federal government helps reduce wasted energy by setting efficiency standards for appliances, commercial equipment and lighting. This program, which got started in part under President Ronald Reagan, has been a behind-the-scenes success story. Each year, consumers and business save a total of about $80 billion from these standards, because they have reduced the energy waste of products we use, from refrigerators to clothes dryers.
These federal investments in energy efficiency are all delivering benefits for consumers, businesses and the environment. Yet now Congress is considering chopping them. The House of Representatives passed bills that would make severe cuts to each of these programs. In the rush to try to save money on the federal budget, some lawmakers have included cuts to these investments that save us all money. If they succeed in what they’ve started at, we’d be the ones stuck with the higher bills.

But the deal isn’t done yet. The future of these investments will be determined in final budget negotiations between the House, Senate and White House over the coming weeks. It is up to local leaders like U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th), who is Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, to make sure these decisions do not stick businesses and consumers with higher energy costs.
Our policymakers need to get this one right and not cut these successful programs.