By JEFFREY BENZING
WASHINGTON (October 21, 2011)—A push to reduce peak electricity use and decrease money spent on energy has earned Maryland a spot in the top-10 most energy-efficient states, according to a report released Thursday by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
"The cheapest kilowatt is the one not needed," said Malcolm Woolf, director of the Maryland Energy Administration. "What Maryland is going to need to do is do what we're doing—but do it faster and more."
The report, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, has Maryland ranked 10th, the state's highest placement to date. Maryland jumped up six spots from last year, making it one of the most improved states in terms of dollars invested and kilowatts saved.
Topping the list, also for the first time, is Massachusetts, which unseated second-ranked California. Since 2006, the report has detailed policies by state governments that have led to decreased energy use and saved money.
"States always have these friendly, cutthroat rivalries—but it does absolutely bring out the best," said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation. "It makes us look at what other states are doing, learn the best of what's been tried."
Success in Maryland, Woolf said, comes in part from the EmPOWER Maryland Energy Efficiency Act, passed in 2008 to reduce state energy demand by 15 percent by 2015. The programs available to Marylanders vary by utility provider but include things like appliance rebates, lighting rebates and home energy audits.
So far, 215,000 Marylanders have used these incentives to save 900 million kilowatt hours of electricity, Woolf said, leading to $117 million total in money not spent on utility bills.
This has reduced peak demand for electricity by more than 600 megawatts—equivalent to the energy produced by three coal-powered plants running when energy demand is at its highest.
The state has also directed nearly $2.7 million in federal stimulus funds to give homeowners a 35 percent rebate on energy-efficient home improvements. So far, about 1,500 Maryland families have used the program, Woolf said, which can be applied to $3,100 in improvements.
Nationwide, $80 billion in federal stimulus money has been directed to energy efficiency, something Kathleen Hogan, deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency in the U.S. Department of Energy, called a down payment that must lead to lasting investment.
Indeed, the challenge for newly-recognized Maryland will be to keep up momentum in coming years when stimulus money runs out.
"They've done a lot to begin the programs, but they need to really ramp them up further," said Steve Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
In the new report, New York ranked third, followed by Oregon in fourth place. Vermont, Washington and Rhode Island tied for fifth place, and Minnesota and Connecticut tied for eighth place.