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CA Senior Energy Official Urges Congress: 'Remember Efficiency'

A veteran California Energy Commission (CEC) member and nationally recognized expert told a special meeting of western state energy regulators Friday that energy efficiency programs are the fastest way to address what he considers a worsening greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions problem. And Arthur Rosenfeld, Ph.D., said he wanted to send a message of urgency to the U.S. Congress to wake up and smell the added carbon dioxide (CO2).

The thrust of Rosenfeld's presentation to conclude a day-long workshop among regulators from California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington emphasized that energy efficiency is steadily playing a bigger role in the West and the nation overall.

"Riding the so-called 'green wave' is interesting, and we ought to take some of that experience to Congress," said Rosenfeld, who was honored earlier this year at the "Father of Energy Efficiency" when he was awarded the 2005 Fermi Award for his career achievements as a particle physicist and innovator in energy efficiency. Offering examples of why "energy efficiency has worked so well," the CEC commissioner said that nevertheless in the last five years he thinks "everyone has forgotten about it; and Congress ought to remember it."

Rosenfeld said last year's energy bill for the United States was essentially $1 trillion for about 100 quads of energy. Without energy efficiency that began in 1973 with the first Arab oil embargo, our energy bill for the nation would have been $1.7 trillion, so Rosenfeld calculates that we saved about $700 billion, the equivalent of about one-third of the current annual federal budget.

"This savings is all with about a five-year payback, and it is all so easy we barely notice it," said Rosenfeld, who earned his doctorate in physics in 1954 working directly with nuclear legend and Nobel Prize laureate Enrico Fermi at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Most recently, he pointed out, nearly 75 quads of energy were avoided through energy efficiency.

"I submit that since this has been true for the last 30 years, then it will probably be true for the next 30 years," Rosenfeld said. "In other words, the major sources of synergies are going to come from energy efficiency, although we will still need solar and wind and the other renewables."

Where did all the savings come from? Rosenfeld rhetorically asked his audience of state regulators. Half comes from energy policy, but at least half, he said, comes from higher energy prices. "In our own energy policy [in California] we have never claimed that any of it was more than half from energy policy," he said.

"I do want to emphasize that price has had something to do about it, and if we freeze prices, there is a problem, of course," he said.

For Oregon and Washington, two of the states with regulators in attendance, Rosenfeld said the leveling off of per-capital electricity consumption is very good, although it is still higher than California. Prices, on the other hand, are much higher (per-kWh) in California, and Oregon/Washington's overall low hydroelectric supplies tend to keep the rates low and thus provoke more consumption.

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