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Report: New England Energy Use Could Drop 18%

Technologies Are Available Today To Increase Efficiency, Use Renewable Resources, Environmental Coalition Says

June 26, 2007
By JESSICA MARSDEN, Courant Staff Writer

New England could slash its energy consumption by 18 percent just by using currently available technologies, according to a new report by a coalition of environmental groups.

The report's recommendations for cutting energy consumption - which would also reduce the region's greenhouse gas emissions - depend on a combination of improving efficiency and using more renewable energy. Key proposals include adopting more efficient technologies for heating, cooling and lighting residential and commercial buildings; increasing fuel economy standards for vehicles; and building wind and solar powered generators in the New England region.

Roger Smith, the campaign director for the Connecticut chapter of Clean Water Action, one of the groups that produced the report, said New England does not need to wait for new technologies before cutting energy use significantly.

"If we're ever going to reach our goals, we need to take action now," he said.

Solar energy and insulating homes should be on the top of the agenda for Connecticut, Smith said. Wind is probably not a viable source of energy for the state, he said, and any improvements to fuel economy standards cannot be accomplished on the state level.

Weatherizing houses would provide immediate reductions in home heating costs, Smith said, and installing solar panels would reduce electricity bills. Although solar panels are not a replacement for conventional power generation, they would take the edge off demand during peak periods - muggy, summer weekdays when factories are humming and businesses and consumers use air conditioning.

An 18 percent reduction in energy consumption is "definitely doable," as long as the state continues to support incentives for efficiency, said Jeff Gaudiosi, chairman of the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund.

"The higher the rates go, the more we see people starting to get involved in the efficiency program," he said.

Interest in the program has increased significantly in recent years, Gaudiosi said, but the state government has taken money out of the fund to support general expenses. If that continues, the fund may have to reduce the incentives it offers companies who invest in more efficient technology, he said.

But Angela Carter, a lobbyist representing 14 New England power plants, said the region's energy problems cannot be solved with efficiency measures alone.

"There is no silver bullet," Carter said. "You cannot conserve your way out of the need to build infrastructure."

The "anemic" transmission system in Connecticut needs to be overhauled, she said, and more power plants are needed to meet existing demands. Although renewable energy is an "essential component" of Connecticut's energy production, Carter said, past attempts to build renewable facilities have faced difficulties in finding suitable locations.

Utilities and state energy policymakers have begun to address transmission and generation issues, amid much haggling about the best ways to do so. An even stickier problem in the energy debate centers on consumer costs. As heating oil, natural gas and gasoline rise in price - thereby stimulating efforts to conserve - many politicians, including President Bush and Gov. M. Jodi Rell, argue for measures, such as tax reductions on gasoline, to ease the hit on consumers and thereby blunt some of the conservation efforts by those consumers.

The report's release was timed to coincide with this week's Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers. While not every state can take advantage of every individual proposal, Smith said, the report was meant to be a "toolbox" that states can draw from in seeking to cut energy consumption.

Rell is not attending the conference, but a spokesman for the governor, Adam Liegeot, said the report offers "a variety of sound recommendations" to build on the state's existing incentives for energy efficiency in the state.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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