The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last Wednesday considered a national energy efficiency resource standard (EERS) that would establish required levels of natural gas and electricity savings to be achieved through consumer and industrial efficiency programs as well as efficient building codes.

SB 548, the Save American Energy Act of 2009, introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), was also reviewed. That legislation would establish a federal EERS to require electricity producers to achieve a 15% improvement in efficiency by 2020. Natural gas distributors would be required to boost efficiency by 10% over the same period.

"Despite its well known benefits, energy efficiency programs are not being utilized to their best potential," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Energy Committee chairman. "Today's hearing is focused on a proposal that could help America meet future energy needs, by using less of it. I look forward to learning more about how a utility efficiency standard would work nationally, either as a stand-alone law or as part of a renewable electricity standard.

"In the building sector, our current laws to promote efficiency are too weak. We need to do more to advance the adoption of modern, energy-saving building codes across the country."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said the goal of efficiency is a worthy one but the committee is taking the wrong approach. The language under consideration would require retail electric and natural gas distributors to reduce customers' energy consumption -- something they have little direct control over, she claimed.

"While utilities can educate consumers, perform energy audits and provide incentives like rebates for efficient appliances, they simply cannot get ‘behind the meter' and control consumers' actions," Murkowski said in a written statement," Murkowski said. "While energy efficiency will play a key role in our efforts to bolster our energy security, an aggressive federal mandate could prove difficult to implement, administer and comply with. We risk setting ourselves back by trying to move forward too quickly, without a full understanding of how such a standard would work."

Some experts estimate that energy savings of up to 30% could be achieved through efficiency on a state-by-state basis. Nineteen states have implemented utility efficiency standards since 1998. Recently the likelihood of a national renewable electricity standard has prompted calls for state utility efficiency standards to become federal law as well.

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