Appalachia: How Energy Efficiency Could Help Transform the Land of “Clean Coal”

appalachia.jpgWith the presidential inauguration complete, the energy industry is perched on the edge of its seat, awaiting what many think could be nothing less than a transformation. Obama’s inaugural address included a prominent mention of energy and he’s made some significant commitments in recent weeks. It even seems as though Congress wants to put up the money, with $54B of the proposed stimulus package directed towards energy.
While government willingness is a necessary first step, this money must be channeled to where it will make the most difference in order to create meaningful results. Enter the Appalachian Regional Commision and its upcoming report, Energy Efficiency in Appalachia. Written by the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA), the report provides a mix of policy proposals and supporting data that map out a potential energy future for Appalachia.

Appalachia has long been one of the country’s leading sources of coal, producing 35% of the national output. As a result, energy prices have historically been low in the region, decreasing the economic incentive for consumers to prioritize efficiency. The policy changes suggested in the report would reduce annual energy consumption in the region from 11.2 quads to 7.7 quads by 2030, a decrease of 24 percent. Given that 76% of Appalachian energy is generated by coal, that equates to over a billion tons of CO2 saved annually by 2030.
The report finds the economic development benefits from energy efficiency to be similarly significant. The policies outlined are estimated to create more than 15,000 Appalachian jobs per year from 2010 to 2014 and increase thereafter. In an area where a significant portion of the workforce is involved in mining, every job that can be shifted from mining to energy efficiency leads to a healthier workforce and population. Ben Taube, the Executive Director of SEEA, believes that the Appalachian labor force is up to the challenge. “The technical colleges, universities, and high schools will be critical to this transition. While this work is definitely technical in nature and the skills largely don’t exist today, I think this is a barrier that can be overcome fairly quickly.”
Taube hopes the report will provide guidance to policymakers as they allocate the funds from the proposed stimulus package, which includes $19.6B for energy efficiency implementation. “The states and local governments that are poised to get these dollars have never seen this kind of money. I’m hoping that organizations like mine and reports like this are poised and ready to help to spend this money where it makes the most sense.”
Taube will be presenting Energy Efficiency in Appalachia at the upcoming Making Energy Work conference in Raleigh, NC. I asked him if he is hopeful that energy efficiency measures such as those suggested in the report will be adopted in the coming years. “I absolutely think its going to happen. Everything is in place from a regulatory standpoint that makes it have to happen.”
The report is an excellent example of the type of information that we are likely to see more of as governmental energy investment increases. Look for Energy Efficiency in Appalachia on the SEEA website within the next two weeks.

Tristan Handy is the founder of and will be covering the Making Energy Work conference for Triple Pundit on February 3. Presented by the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, this forum will explore the Southeast’s emerging new energy economy and how sustainable energy resources in our region can work to expand our economies, create business opportunities, develop new “green” workforces, and enhance our energy security.

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