Doubling U.S. energy productivity a bipartisan effort

A. Lee Graham

The day before voters took to the polls, Congressmen from two opposing parties united on one issue: energy. Gathered at the Worthington Renaissance Fort Worth Hotel, Marc Veasey and Michael Burgess emphasized the need to double the nation’s energy productivity by 2030.

The goal underscored Energy 2030, a state and local campaign sponsored by the energy efficiency coalition the Alliance to Save Energy. It made Fort Worth one of its 13 tour stops on Nov. 3. “This should be something Democrats and Republicans can work together on,” said Veasey (D-Fort Worth), who serves on a science, space and technology subcommittee focused on energy. “If we can utilize our energy more efficiently, it certainly will help,” Veasey said. Burgess (R-Lewisville) agreed.

“My approach has been, ‘What can we do from the ground up rather than from the top down,’” said Burgess, calling Fort Worth and the area’s Barnett Shale formation critical to natural gas production. “I do believe natural gas is a bridge fuel to a renewable future,” he said. He also called wind, solar and other alternative energy sources vital in powering homes and businesses in the future. “Texas is the No. 1 producer of wind energy, despite what they would tell you in Iowa,” said Burgess, drawing laughs in an otherwise sober occasion tackling a formidable challenge. With proper education and investment, as well as regulatory and infrastructure upgrades, it is possible to double the nation’s energy productivity, according to the alliance. That’s defined as deriving twice as much economic output from each unit of energy, which is possible, in part, the Alliance says, if existing climate-control equipment is upgraded in homes, businesses and governmental facilities. State and local programs for financing efficiency measures would help fund energy-efficient improvements, the alliance suggested, with funding coming from repayment on utility bills or on property taxes. The alliance urges state and local governments to work with utilities, the private sector and the federal government to create energy-efficiency financing mechanisms for residential and commercial buildings. Those could include loans and energy-service agreements, among other tools.

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Because the federal government is the nation’s largest single energy user, according to the alliance, it should “lead by example,” it said. And state and local governments combined own one-fifth of all commercial building space, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Despite the Fort Worth city government’s myriad energy conservation programs, Texas is among the nation’s biggest energy consumers. It was among only 12 states visited as part of the alliance’s outreach tour. “Texas is the largest electricity consumer in the United States,” said Kateri Callahan, alliance president. In per capita energy consumption, Texas and Iowa rank fifth among the states in using the most energy, according to a 2012 ranking by the Energy Information Administration.

“It’s not a great thing to get,” Callahan said of the ranking. “That’s means there’s lots of opportunity for improvement.” Several guest speakers suggested ways to improve. “We are working on battery technology that could provide energy in common [power] outages,” said Don Clevenger, senior vice president of strategic planning with Oncor Energy in Dallas. Already serving as test sites for the firm’s refrigerator-sized batteries are south Dallas and the city of Lancaster. As Oncor invests in such technology, Lockheed Martin Corp., which sponsored the Nov. 3 event, promotes education, particularly STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum.

“Working for one of the world’s largest technology companies, I see every day how critical the next generation workforce is for our nation’s energy security, sustainability and economy,” said Frank Armijo, vice president of energy solutions for Lockheed Martin, whose Fort Worth-based aeronautics unit is a longtime example of energy conservation. Its recycling program targets aluminum cans, toner cartridges, tires and batteries, among other items, while its food waste composting helped divert food waste from landfills. Its Go Green initiative focuses on reducing carbon emissions as well as energy use and water use at its facility. “As for our Fort Worth facility … Lockheed Martin focuses on our sustainability goals. It not only makes you a good community partner, but it’s good for business,” Armijo said. A TCU energy educator offered his own take for reaching the Energy 2030 goal. “It’s education. We must educate people about how energy is produced, how much is needed and how to sell it,” said Ken Morgan, director of Texas Christian University’s Energy Institute. Morgan’s appearance at the event coincided with hosting a Brazilian delegation at TCU. Representing private industry and government, the visitors were in town to learn more about natural gas and how to drill in their own country. “The more we can get this country to understand that energy is the economic engine, the better. Education is the chance to get our economy on track in creating energy jobs, energy training and to get people to understand how important it is to be able to be an energy seller rather than a buyer,” Morgan said.