States continue to move strongly in 2012 to advance energy efficiency initiatives regardless of which political party is in control of state legislatures and governors' offices, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, citing Wednesday's release of the group's sixth annual State Energy Efficiency Scorecard.
The ACEEE State Scorecard shows that the top 10 energy efficiency states are Massachusetts, California, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Washington, Maryland, and Minnesota.
The 10 states most in need of improvement are Mississippi, North Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota, Alaska, Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana, and Nebraska.
ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel said the findings show that energy efficiency is being embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike at the state level.
"That nonpartisan status is crucial because too many conversations about U.S. energy policy begin with the false premise that the only way to safeguard our reliable energy future is to expand our supply," Nadel said.
Nadel explained that energy efficiency saves consumers money and drives investment across all sectors of the economy, "creating much-needed jobs, and reducing environmental impacts."
The three most improved states are Oklahoma, Montana, and South Carolina. Oklahoma put in place natural gas efficiency programs for the first time in 2011, and Montana dramatically increased its budgets for these programs.
Other states making significant progress this year include Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, all of which increased budgets for energy efficiency under their statewide energy savings goals.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said smart statewide policies have led to major improvements for Oklahoma on the ACEEE scorecard.
"Making government smaller, smarter, and more efficient is among my top priorities," Gov. Fallin said. "Energy inefficiency wastes natural resources and tax dollars that could otherwise be used for essential services like education, transportation, and public safety."
Fallin said the state used tax incentives and efficiency programs through state utilities to work towards 20% energy efficiency by 2020 among state agencies.
"With innovative efficiency and conservation policies, Oklahoma is leading the way on energy conservation," Fallin said.
The study also found that annual savings from all customer-funded energy efficiency programs topped 18 million megawatt-hours in 2010, a 40% increase over a year earlier. This is roughly equivalent to the amount of electricity the state of Wyoming uses each year.
Utility budgets for electric and natural gas efficiency programs rose to almost $7 billion in 2011, a 27 percent increase over a year earlier, the study found. Of this, $5.9 billion went to electric efficiency programs, with the remaining $1.1 billion for natural gas programs.
Earlier this year, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack proposed new regulations to spur energy efficiency by helping rural homeowners and businesses make energy improvements to their properties. Through the proposed rule, the Rural Utilities Service could expand rural energy cooperatives programs that promote efficiency.
The deadline for comment on the proposed rulemaking was Sept. 24, but no decision regarding the rule has been released.
The USDA is also involved in energy efficiency through its Rural Development Rural Energy for America Program.