VAEEC Blog: Controversial Research Paper Attacks Energy Efficiency, and in the Process Generates Widespread Support for It

by Ken Rosenfeld, Executive Director

There’s been growing momentum in the past few years for energy efficiency, along with a mounting wave of evidence related to its benefits and its potential. Perhaps that’s why it’s headline-inducing when a piece of news goes in the other direction. That was the case earlier this summer when an economics research paper was released by the University of Chicago. It asked in its title, “Do Energy Efficiency Investments Deliver?” and the report responded with a conclusion that the costs outweigh the benefits.

I hesitate to even mention this paper and bring any additional attention to it, as the research has been quickly, thoroughly and appropriately debunked. But at the same time, it serves as a worthwhile reminder that, despite all of the evidence in support of efficiency programs, we still need to continue making the argument that EE benefits are real.

The paper has clear shortcomings, with a number of questionable assumptions including how to measure costs, what should be included as benefits, and which populations are targeted. The primary danger is that this analysis of one program (the Weatherization Assistance Program) in one state (Michigan) could lead to far-reaching, negative conclusions on EE more broadly.

A number of highly-regarded organizations responded, representing a variety of perspectives, and these blog posts are worth a read:

We’re on the cusp of an energy efficiency moment in the U.S., and that’s particularly the case in Virginia where in just the last year we’ve seen:

  • Governor McAuliffe’s formation of a committee to address the state‘s longstanding goal of reducing energy use by 10%;
  • The appointment of the country’s first state-level chief energy efficiency officer;
  • Bipartisan passage of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing legislation; and
  • Continued growth of the VAEEC’s membership and the energy efficiency industry – the latest VAEEC census reveals a $2.2 billion EE industry in Virginia supporting more than 13,000 jobs.

However, we haven’t reached the point where we can assume that everyone recognizes the value of energy efficiency, and we have to continue to build this consensus in order to turn the promise of EE into reality. This one research paper may have its faults – and it does — but it has served as a useful call to action.

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