Flipping the Switch 

Why Virginia has a tremendous opportunity to lead the nation in energy efficiency.

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There are few things that deliver a greater bang for your buck than investing in residential energy efficiency. It pays dividends — not just financial dividends, but health dividends as well, especially for lower-income families and people.

Energy efficiency has real effects on our families. It lowers overall utility costs, creates economic opportunity and mitigates health factors from pollution. That’s why it’s important for Virginia families that our state invests in such measures. We have a tremendous opportunity to lead the nation in energy efficiency, and while we’re already committing to boosting investments in clean energy sources, we still trail far behind other states in renewable energy development.

Energy efficiency has a direct impact on family budgets. As more homes become energy efficient, electricity use will decline, in turn lowering overall electricity bills and easing the pressure that families feel trying to make ends meet. You may have heard the phrase, “having more month at the end of the money”? Many Virginia families face this dilemma every month. Energy improvements in homes will ensure that families have more money at the end of the month. Estimates show that by increasing efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system, electricity bills could shrink by about 8 percent, saving American consumers $37.4 billion on their electricity bills. That would mean $159 in savings per household and more than $1 billion in savings for Virginians.

Virginia has approximately 385,000 units of affordable multifamily housing, and a disproportionate number of lower-income families live in such rental housing. Much of this stock in the state is aging and inefficient so there is great potential for savings that will have a great affect on its residents. A recent study from Housing Virginia and the Virginia Tech Center for Housing Research looked at EarthCraft-certified, low-income housing tax credit multifamily rental housing projects. It found that on average, using energy efficient design can increase affordability by as much as 12 percent in this type of housing. A study conducted by Energy Efficiency for All found that approximately every dollar invested in energy savings for affordable multifamily buildings yields $2.90 in benefits. That’s a clear return on investment for Virginia families. In fact, energy efficiency offers a better payback than many other renewable resources.

Lost in the debate over our energy sources are the public health impacts of dirty energy on our communities. Increasing energy efficiency and driving down electricity use overall will reduce the dangerous pollution from power plants that threatens the health of our children. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People found that almost 40 percent of the 6 million Americans living close to a coal plant are people of color. These communities also experience more than three times the rate of asthma-related hospital visits than whites. Energy efficiency can help take steps toward addressing these disparities.

The potential for savings is turning heads left and right. The Virginia Conservation Network and the Virginia Housing Coalition recently examined energy efficiency as part of the solution for addressing climate change and the benefits to lower-income people and multifamily properties.

This summer, the Environmental Protection Agency will issue a broad plan to address climate change through carbon reduction goals. The Clean Power Plan will give Virginia the opportunity and incentive to make important investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. Specifically, investing in energy efficiency measures will help spur innovation and further investments in clean industries such as wind, solar and geothermal. Combined, these industries already employ hundreds of thousands of Americans. There’s no reason Virginia can’t create jobs within these industries while maintaining a diverse energy sourcing plan. As we develop the technology and deploy it in Virginia, we will create meaningful and sustained economic opportunity for our families and communities while helping meet Virginia’s carbon reduction goals.

The Clean Power Plan gives states the flexibility they need to craft carbon reduction plans in a manner that best fits their economies and individual circumstances. If done properly, Virginia’s investments in energy efficiency could trigger a boost of more than 5,000 jobs. Virginia’s goal of increasing clean, renewable energy sources, coupled with investments in energy efficiency, is a clear path forward that achieves the goal of stimulating economic growth with reducing dangerous pollution from power plants. It gives us a shot at a win-win on our energy challenges.

As an affordable housing advocate in Virginia, I understand how utility costs can make the difference of whether housing is affordable, especially for low-income Virginians, and I know energy efficiency improvements carry other health benefits. Our communities need to be healthier and safer. With the right investments, we can improve energy efficiency in our homes, schools and businesses, and improve the quality of life for Virginia families. S

Zack Miller is policy director of the Virginia Housing Coalition.

Opinions on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.


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