Alaska Ranks Among Nation’s Least Energy-Efficient States

Alaska rates near the bottom in a nationwide survey on how states are improving energy-efficiency programs. A state energy official says the survey may not be giving Alaska enough credit for the programs it has put in place in recent years.

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Energy-policy analysts say the U.S. industrial base is riddled with energy-inefficiency. A2009 study by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory says the United States wastes more than half of all energy it produces, about 58 percent, due to such inefficiencies as unused waste heat from power plants and poorly heated and insulated buildings.

Washington D.C.-based American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economyhas for eight years now been tracking those inefficiencies, and issuing an annual survey on how, and whether, states are making progress to improve.

Annie Gilleo, the council’s state policy research analyst, said in a Wednesday teleconference announcing this year’s survey that energy efficiency doesn’t just save money; it also boosts economies.

“The benefits of energy efficiency have been proven,” Gilleo said “We see it creating jobs, we see it saving customers money on their energy bills. We see it cleaning up environments.”

This year’s survey shows Alaska for the second consecutive year rates 47th in the nation, with Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming rounding out the bottom five.

“Most of these states at the bottom have not made energy efficiency a priority in their policies, with low scores across the board,” Gilleo said.

Much of Alaska’s low rating is based on the state’s failure to develop energy-efficiency programs for utilities and the transportation sector. It gave credit to some state policies, such as those based on legislation passed in 2010 that among other things set a goal of generating half of the state’s electricity with renewable-energy sources by 2025. But the state doesn’t get credit for that because it’s voluntary, not required.

Sean Skaling is the Alaska Energy Authority’s deputy director for Alternative Energy and Energy Efficiency. He believes Alaska’s low rating is largely because the council isn’t giving enough credit for its energy-conservation efforts.

“The state-government-led initiatives are where our score is very good, actually,” he said. “We’re well above average there.”

Skaling’s referring to the high marks that the council gave for the state’s Village Energy Efficiency Program, which provides audits for public buildings in remote communities and helps pay for improvements; and the Commercial Building Energy Audit program, which provide similar help for those qualifying private-sector property owners.

Skaling suspects the council’s low rating for Alaska is based at least in part on statistical quirks arising from a small population spread over a large area in a cold, requiring high energy use.

“Y’know, things are a little different in Alaska,” he said. “Sometimes a lot different.”

The council also credits Alaska for its two residential energy-efficiency think tanks, including Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks. And the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation’s energy-rebate program, which gives qualifying homeowners up to $10,000 to improve their house’s energy efficiency.

But the Council faults Alaska for among other things not requiring commercial buildings to comply with thermal- and lighting-efficiency standards, like those required of all public facilities. It also cites the state’s failure to require all new construction to adhere to the state’s building-energy codes, instead of just state-financed construction.