The Journal Gazette
Thursday, January 05, 2017 10:03 am

Charging ahead

When Indiana policymakers talk about jobs, both energy efficiency and clean energy should be part of the conversation.

New energy strategies can conserve resources and reduce pollution. But they also should appeal to our hardheaded Hoosier business sense.

Though employment related to energy efficiency and alternative sources is burgeoning around the country, the focus in Indiana has been on reinforcing traditional electricity sources and preserving jobs in the coal-mining industry. Many jobs in the coal industry have been eliminated, and the livelihoods of the remaining 2,500 miners in the state are imperiled. Use of coal as a power source has been declining for years, driven by environmental regulations and cheaper natural gas.

Plans should be laid to help and retrain those who depend on the industry for their livelihood. But a state energy policy primarily based on coal is not realistic.

Coal, which provided half the nation’s energy a few years ago, now provides less than a third. "It’s part of our heritage and our past, but it’s not a part of our future," said Jodi Perras of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

In contrast, alternative energy sources are providing increasing portions of the nation’s energy, and jobs in those areas are becoming plentiful. "More than 2.5 million Americans go to work every day in the clean energy industry," according to an analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics by the nonpartisan group Environmental Entrepreneurs. Those jobs involve clean energy fuel generation and distribution, alternative-power cars and fuel-efficiency jobs in lighting, appliances, and heating and air-conditioning systems. Growth in these areas is inevitable.

Unfortunately, Indiana has been slower than some of our neighbors to seize on those opportunities.

Indiana’s most obvious gap in energy policy, and the easiest one to close, is in encouraging homeowners, schools and commercial and industrial operations to use energy more efficiently. A state scorecard put together by the American Council for An Energy-Efficient Economy ranked Indiana 42nd in those efforts.

Half the states have an energy-efficiency program. Our state used to be one of them, with a program called Energizing Indiana that was beginning to show significant success when it was shut down by the legislature in 2014. The program, started by Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2009, increased energy savings by homeowners, schools and commercial and industrial operations. Daniels’ executive order also gave utilities specific goals for helping their customers become more energy-efficient.

The program was working, according to Kerwin Olson of the Indiana Citizens Action Coalition. "Energy use and bills were dropping – that was also putting money back in the pockets of consumers," he said. After the program was shuttered, a study commissioned by the Indiana utility rates commission concluded that Energizing Indiana had created almost 19,000 jobs. It also found that every dollar invested in the program saved ratepayers almost $3, and that during 2014, its final year, the program saved "enough electricity to power 37,886 homes per year."

Last year, the legislature passed the toothless Senate Enrolled Act 412, which asks the utility companies themselves to establish voluntary goals for helping their customers decrease the use of electricity – hardly a substitute for Energizing Indiana’s aggressive agenda.

Meanwhile, Indiana’s neighbors continued to move ahead with more progressive policies. In December, Illinois passed a comprehensive energy bill that increases support for efficiency strategies, and Ohio’s Gov. John Kasich vetoed a bill that would have made its mandatory energy-efficiency programs voluntary.

Legislators who struck down Energizing Indiana feared that the program would have diminishing returns. Indiana’s new governor should consider creating an efficiency program that addresses those concerns. It could be an environmentally and economically sound move.

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