Over the span of the last decade, many programs that were put in place to improve energy efficiency in West Virginia have been scaled back.
Currently, West Virginia is ranked 48th among states for energy efficiency, tying with Louisiana, according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) annual State Energy Efficiency Scorecard report.
“Energy efficient programs actually haven't been growing unfortunately,” said Emmett Pepper, executive director for Energy Efficient WV. “They were growing but they have been cut back. Companies, such as Mon Power, use to have energy efficient programs, but they currently have no retail or commercial programs.”
The Energy Efficient WV nonprofit organization was created because there were no prior programs advocating for the elimination of energy waste within the state.
One classic method that can incentivize energy efficiency are rebates that residents can get for having sustainable products, as they make them affordable, Pepper said.
“Often times, it's more expensive upfront to buy an energy efficient product, but in the long run you save a lot of money,” Pepper said. “So, you can lessen that to a small extent and that helps make it more cost effective for people and they're more likely to do it.”
Another way to encourage residents and business owners to be more sustainable is to have utility programs perform free walkthroughs, not necessarily a full energy audit, but a way for residents to receive suggestions on cost-effective ways to save money, Pepper said.
“There has been a bill the last few sessions that I’ve been working on that would help businesses that want to make improvements,” Pepper said. “Basically, it allows a type of financing where instead of having to use the lending potential of the business, you can borrow the money and pay for it over time regardless of who owns the building and essentially you pay it on your taxes.”
For sustainability to grow in the region, governments throughout the state need to lead by example to help jumpstart the energy efficiency sector, Pepper said.
“My understanding is that the state government has not been keeping full records of how much has been spent, for example, on electric bills or gas bills,” Pepper said. “I think there are some counties that are in there working to improve it, but as far as I know there's not been a comprehensive look at where the places are that local governments can save energy.”
Dr. Jim Kotcon, chair of the Morgantown Municipal Green Team and associate professor of plant pathology at WVU, mentioned some ways Morgantown is improving its energy efficiency.
“Morgantown has seen some tremendous progress on a range of sustainability issues,” Kotcon said. “They have been improving very effectively towards energy efficiency projects, looking at making Morgantown a more livable city, protecting green space and a wide variety of other similar issues.”
One of the major projects they are currently working on is improving recycling efforts in town, Kotcon said.
“A major constraint has been the contamination of recycle bins containing non-recyclable materials,” Kotcon said. “So, we are hoping to help educate the citizens on that.”
Another issue has been the energy use within the city of Morgantown, Kotcon said.
“The city has signed on the U.S. Mayor's Climate Action Agreement and have pledged to reduce their greenhouse emissions,” Kotcon said. “They are looking at a range of energy issues to help achieve those goals.”
Being a college town, younger residents also bring forth some issues, Kotcon said.
“I'm concerned that many of our students do not have a good appreciation for energy efficiency,” Kotcon said. “In many cases they do not pay their electric bill, as their utilities are included with their apartment rent.”
Increased education on sustainability would benefit not only the students, but the city of Morgantown, Kotcon said.
“I think, as a whole, the city of Morgantown has taken an important step addressing their greenhouse gases,” Kotcon said. “However, the University could be doing a lot more to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.”