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Path to Clean Power Could Lead to Commercial Energy Savings

A new study finds commercial owners and occupants nationwide could realize billions of dollars in annual savings on their electric bills by implementing the Clean Power Plan. (Kentucky Utilities)
A new study finds commercial owners and occupants nationwide could realize billions of dollars in annual savings on their electric bills by implementing the Clean Power Plan. (Kentucky Utilities)
August 9, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. - A new study finds that if states implement the Clean Power Plan, energy savings would be greatest in retail and office buildings and total more than $11 billion a year nationwide in the commercial sector by 2030. The Obama administration's plan is to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants by 32 percent by 2030.

The author of the Georgia Tech report, Georgia Tech School of Public Policy professor Marilyn Brown, said one big way big buildings could save money is by using air-source heat pumps.

"This is a new generation," she said. "These are super-efficient. They're on the market, their return on investment is great. Right now they're so new we're not seeing a lot of them, but if by 2030 they were to take hold, as I think they're going to, they would make a very big difference."

Brown said the air-source method heats, cools, dehumidifies and manages ventilation, making it much more efficient than a traditional rooftop system. The report estimates if the path to clean power is followed, commercial buildings nationwide would eventually save seven-percent a year on their electric bills and reduce their natural gas bills by ten percent. But, many political leaders in Kentucky maintain the plan would increase electricity rates and devastate the state's economy.

The Georgia Tech study predicts with business as usual the electric bills of commercial building owners and occupants in the U-S would rise by more than 21 percent over the next 15 years.

Elizabeth Beardsley, senior policy analyst with the U.S. Green Building Council said the biggest challenge for the commercial sector is finding capital to make improvements to their buildings' energy efficiency.

"We know that they pay for themselves over the time, and sometimes actually a pretty rapid payback," she said. "It still takes that initial effort to make a project happen."

Beardsley points to creative financing options that would help homeowners and businesses defray upfront costs. The Clean Power Plan includes programs like that, including one which helps low-income residents.

Brown said it's also important to track energy costs in commercial buildings, a technology known as benchmarking.

"And that means that if a tenant wants to consider what the real cost of occupying a space in that building might be, it has some good sense of how efficient the office complex is," Brown added. "It's a way of making the market work more efficiently."

The full study can be read online here.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY