LEAP Remarks: Chamber of Commerce Power Lunch

These remarks were delivered by Cynthia Adams at the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce Power Lunch on April 20, 2011. Adams joined representatives from Dominion Virginia Power and ExxonMobil on the panel.


LEAP is a 501c3 nonprofit energy services organization. Our mission is to help create a sustainable energy future for our community with the attendant benefits of cost savings, job creation, economic development, and the increased health and welfare of our residents. How does energy efficiency provide all of that you might ask?

Let’s begin by rethinking what the term “energy efficiency” means. Getting more work from our energy via smarter technologies is often confused with “energy conservation.” Images of President Jimmy Carter in a sweater asking people to turn down their thermostats may come to mind. Energy efficiency means doing more and better with less—not simply doing less or doing without.

Increasing the efficiency of the how we use energy (called end-use efficiency) means we provide more of a desired service per unit of delivered energy. As Amory Lovins from the Rocky Mountain Institute once said, energy efficiency is generally the largest, least expensive, most benign, most quickly deployable, least visible, least understood, and most neglected way to provide energy.

Improved energy efficiency, especially of the end-use variety, delivers better energy services. We don’t demand electricity or natural gas or propane for their own sake. What we all want is the services they provide: we want to read in bed at night, drink a cold beer, and take our coats off indoors in the winter.

Energy efficiency gives us better results when it comes to how that power we pay for is used. Energy efficient houses are more comfortable and affordable than those that are less so; energy efficient lighting can help you see better, making work easier; energy efficient ventilation systems can be more quiet and promote better indoor air quality; and efficient refrigeration can improve food safety – all the while these technologies also use less power and save their building owners money.

These kinds of side-benefits are for many building owners and occupants more valuable than the energy directly saved. In an efficient home where moisture and air are controlled and dust, mold, and mildew eliminated – the health benefits alone can save the homeowner the cost of the retrofit. How much does one emergency room trip cost? How many days of missed work for a sick child? Anyone with asthma or allergies is well aware of how expensive fighting a chronic illness can be, especially if the home itself is a trigger.

Many of us may remember from our high school science class that energy is neither “consumed” nor “lost.” Energy is only converted from one form to another. In thinking about the conversion of energy along the entire supply chain, there is the conversion of source energy, say coal from the ground, to electrical energy. There is the distribution of that electrical energy from the power plant to your home. Then there is the conversion of that power into the energy service you want it for in the first place – such as a television set so you can watch the big game.

Because approximately 10 units of fuel fed into a pipe deliver the one unit of energy you need for the service, in many ways, the greatest potential leverage comes at the end use. Successive inefficiencies along the conversion chain all multiply, and those nearest the customer are the most important. Every unit saved at the end use, saves approximately ten units of fuel, cost, pollution, etc. along the chain from the source.

In Virginia, we have a voluntary energy efficiency goal 10% by 2022, and Dominion is voluntarily participating in that goal. We also have an Energy Plan which seeks to grow our in state energy production by 20%, in part to meet the projected need for over 7200 MWs of new production. Think about it, our population is growing, the number of buildings is increasing, the number of gadgets we are putting into these buildings is also increasing – the new power has to come from somewhere, right? We can, and will, through our utility rates fund needed capital projects which will bring online new plants to meet this demand, but isn’t the power we have currently here in the state more valuable saved and resold than wasted in our homes, in our buildings?

The state of Vermont supplies 2% of its power from energy efficiency alone. Could we do that here in Virginia?

How do we get to creating energy efficiency as a commodity, as a supply-side resource – what does that mean really? If we know (and we do) that our need for energy is increasing, that we must build new plants in order to meet the demands of tomorrow, then energy efficiency is just another way to meet that demand. If you need less, then you build less.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy has done a study in Virginia, and that study found that the average cost for creating new power – negawatts from efficiency – is 3 cents kwh, while creating new power through a new coal fired or nuclear plant is between 10 – 12 cents kwh. Which one of these options would you rather pay for? Which is the better deal? If we can spend 3 cents a kWh to make a negawatts, why spend 10 – 12 cents a kWh to make megawatts? Why not “build” a power plant in our downtown, in our churches, schools, and homes though making them use less power in the first place? Not only will it cost us less over time as rate payers, it will also keep money in people’s pockets, make for healthier living conditions, and create jobs. The utilities can continue to enjoy a return on the investments they have already made with previous capital improvement projects, while the community enjoys the benefits of creating a virtual utility, an energy efficiency utility.

So why aren’t more people doing it if efficiency is so grand? Several reasons: up front cost born by the building owner, difficulty in accessing capital, not knowing what kind of work should be done or knowing who to call to get it done are just a few reasons. Our organization, the Local Energy Alliance Program, was created in overcome these barriers in our local market. We have cash rebates for energy assessments and improvements, a financing program with the UVA Community Credit Union, pre-qualified contractors, third party quality assurance, and staff who can really help you prioritize the most cost effective solutions to your home’s needs.

On the commercial building side, we are working with some local businesses in a pilot capacity. Our commercial program will offer the same benefits I just listed to you on the residential side, and we hope many of you in this room will take advantage of them. Additionally, the Better Business Challenge we are launching with Better World Betty is sponsored by the Chamber, Darden School of Business, the James River Green Building Council, and City and County government. This Better Business Challenge will be a way local businesses can learn more and do more to improve the sustainability of their companies through energy efficiency and a number of other avenues.

Ultimately, LEAP seeks to create energy efficiency at a scale that is more than just a “nice to have” for few homeowners and businesses. We would like to work with all stakeholders, including Dominion and the electrical co-ops, in partnership to create what amounts to a virtual energy efficiency utility. To do that we need to have both scale and accountability – we need to know that the savings are real and reproducible, which is why conservation behavior alone cannot be relied on to provide efficiency from the supply side.

However, focusing on the building itself also creates local jobs – jobs which the hard-hit construction and contracting industry could certainly use. And the economic development potential still stands: the more money stays in the pocketbooks of building owners, the more that money can be spent in the local community. And more money that comes to local payrolls, the more money can also be spent in the local community. It’s a big win for everyone, and we hope you will participate.