July 8, 2008

Energy Efficiency

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Energy innovation is a hot topic these days.  Turn on the TV and you’ll see presidential campaign ads touting each candidate as being environmentally responsible or a force for securing America’s energy independence. 

It’s no wonder, then, that when you ask people what the wave of the future is for energy technology, they come back with a variety of responses.  Some will say biofuels—things like ethanol or cellulosic alternatives.  A growing number of Americans will tell you that it’s renewable energy sources like wind turbines, solar panels, or even geothermal power.  And, despite concerns about security and storage, nuclear power is still an option to be considered.

What most people don’t know, though, is that there’s a set of technologies out there promising substantial, immediate benefits for consumers, our planet, and our workforce.  When it comes to conserving energy and protecting our environment, the number one tool is energy efficiency.  It’s an industry that will create thousands of good-paying jobs, save consumers millions of dollars annually, and dramatically reduce energy consumption.  Best of all, Milwaukee is home to one of the most progressive energy efficiency projects in America.

The project is called Milwaukee Energy Efficiency; Me2, for short.  Since starting up in 2007, Me2 has been working to help building owners retrofit their properties with more energy efficient technologies.  Retrofitting can include anything from installing more effective insulation at work to installing low-flow showerheads at home.  As simple as some of the changes are, they can end up saving thousands of dollars over time.  Even factoring in installation costs, proper insulation for water piping can save a homeowner hundreds of dollars in just a few years.

Of course, some property owners either don’t know about the benefits of energy efficiency upgrades or don’t think it’s cost-effective for them to invest in an upgrade at the moment.  Some owners don’t upgrade because they’re likely to sell the property before they’d make any gains from energy savings.  Other property owners just don’t believe they have the money to afford an upgrade.

That’s where Me2 comes in.  By publicizing the benefits of energy efficiency upgrades, Me2 ensures that fewer people miss out on the opportunity to save money and protect the environment.  By pushing an innovative financing plan—one where building owners pay for the improvements through the savings from the project—Me2 reduces disincentives for people to invest in efficiency upgrades.

Maybe best of all, the new market for efficiency improvements could create thousands of Milwaukee jobs installing efficiency measures.  At a time when our economy is clearly hurting, good-paying jobs in installation and repair would offer families the opportunity to build strong financial foundations.

As we move further into the 21st century, it’s becoming increasingly clear that energy will be a defining issue for ours and future generations.  In our search for resources that are economically- and environmentally-friendly, energy efficiency should be our first priority.  It’s the wave of the future.  And, thanks to collaboratives like Me2, the future is here today.