Energy Efficiency

Calif. Commissioner Rosenfeld says Bush admin 'has it wrong' regarding emissions

With California signing a landmark greenhouse gas emissions reduction mandate, the debate over whether a national mandate should be implemented continues. During today's OnPoint California Energy Commissioner Art Rosenfeld discusses the need for more federal action in the transportation sector. He explains why it is not economic for California to be entirely self-sufficient in providing its residents with electricity. Commissioner Rosenfeld also comments on the changing American perception of conservation and efficiency.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Commissioner Art Rosenfeld of the California Energy Commission. Commissioner, thanks for being here.

Art Rosenfeld: A pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: Commissioner, California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and also the California lawmakers, recently signed a greenhouse gas emissions ...

Art Rosenfeld: A.B. 32.

Monica Trauzzi: A.B. 32, and basically it sets limits for industry and electric utilities. When can we expect to see action on this?

Art Rosenfeld: You know, A.B. 32 is an acceleration of a huge program, which has been going on for the last 30 years. So you're seeing action already, I'll get into that. But starting with the oil embargo in 1973, we, in California, formed the California Energy Commission with the idea that we would manage electricity for the public, in the public interest. We introduced building standards and appliance standards and huge programs, which in those days were called conservation programs. And they're now called energy efficiency programs, in which the utilities administer funds to do anything possible to beat the standards. We have managed to conserve electricity two percent a year, compared to the United States as a whole. We've managed to keep electricity use constant for 30 years, even though everything is more electrified than it used to be and there are lots of TVs around the house and so on. Under A.B. 32 we will try to add to that in three ways. We will increase the effort on efficiency programs, hoping to knock one percent a year off of the present success. We will have a renewable portfolio in which we will add one percent a year of renewables to our electricity, thus cutting down the greenhouse emissions by another percent per year. So including population growth in California, which we're still for, we are now going up in carbon dioxide one and a half percent a year. We hope to level that out and start down.

Monica Trauzzi: Several Senate Democrats, including California's Dianne Feinstein, recently pressed President Bush to address the climate change issue by embracing mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions, which California is doing now. How much of an impact do you think your state's actions and accomplishments are having on the rest of the U.S.?

Art Rosenfeld: I don't want to sound too California-centric. I know California, but when I say California, please read in New York and New England and their regional greenhouse gas initiative. I think that the example set by California and these other advanced states is really quite remarkable. I think it's given the whole country the confidence to go ahead. I think we've shown that we can, these advanced states can beat the United States as a whole by two percent a year. And that it's a big help to economic development. We're receiving a lot of attention from India and China where the low lying fruit really lie. I'm a fan of Tom Friedman, who recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times entitled "China Is the Problem and California Is the Solution."

Monica Trauzzi: But let's talk about the economics behind it because it's something that the Bush administration feels strongly about. They don't want leakage to occur and they don't want other states or countries to have increased emissions. So how do you justify any fallout that might occur by capping emissions?

Art Rosenfeld: Almost every, I'm going to go back and not even use the word almost. In California, I've said before and I'm going to repeat, we're building standards and appliance standards and programs to do what's cost effective to beat those standards. Nothing that we do costs money on a lifecycle basis. That is everything we do averages out to have a payback time of about five years. What I mean by payback time is you pay a little bit more for the better refrigerator or a little bit more for the better house or a little bit more for the Energy Star dust buster, but you save in electricity. And the calculation is always to get your money back in five years. You don't get you money back from a power plant in five years, and you don't get your money back from renewable energy sources in 10 years. So we think that this is a huge contributor, not a detractor from economic development. We just think the Bush administration has it wrong.

Monica Trauzzi: You've been called the father of energy efficiency.

Art Rosenfeld: At least don't call me the grandfather.

Monica Trauzzi: You recently received the Enrico Fermi Award from the Department of Energy, congratulations. During the '90s you were a senior adviser at the Department of Energy. If you were back at your old post at DOE today what recommendations would you make to the current administration?

Art Rosenfeld: I would say, with respect to global warming, that it's very, very clear now that the climate is getting hotter, that we are probably going to go up an average, over the next sixty years, something like 1 degree Fahrenheit per decade. Sea levels may rise by the end of that time up to one foot per decade. We're doing a very dangerous experiment with the planet, and we should level out as soon as possible, which means going for energy efficiency and at the same time do a serious R&D program to administer biofuels, better solar, all the popular renewables. But the point that I think I would emphasize is that what we know how to do here and now, demonstrated by New York and California and so on, is energy efficiency. I repeat, it has a five-year payback and it's saving us hundreds of billions of dollars per year since the embargo. And, in fact, I'll go into that if you ask me right now.

Monica Trauzzi: Well, actually I wanted to talk more about the specifics of what the federal should be doing as far as energy efficiency goes. What would you like to see them do?

Art Rosenfeld: I would like to see more federal action in all fields. Let's start with transportation. In 1973 we realized we needed corporate automobile fuel economy standards. We introduced them in 1975. Fuel economy was 14 miles per gallon, and we required that it go to 27 and a half in 10 years. That was magnificent. Incidentally, the payback time was very small. I believe it cost the manufacturers somewhere between $100 and $200 cost to improve the automobile efficiency and decrease the weight, go to five forward speeds instead of three and so on. The average car saves 500 gallons a year by having made that improvement. The payback time is measured in months. It was a wonderful thing to do. We haven't done anything with automobile fuel economy since 1985, except to invent the SUV and make it worse. In California we now argue that tailpipe emissions are a health threat and that we are no longer pre-empted by corporate automobile fuel economy standards, which were invented for good reason, to reduce petroleum dependence and to save money, but not to delay global warming, which was not known in those days. We now claim that it is a public health threat. We have legislation requiring a 33 percent improvement in fuel economy starting in 2009. The automobile companies are, of course, suing us. I believe that the federal government is a friend of the court, on the side of the automobile companies. I think that's very disappointing, and certainly not forward-looking.

Monica Trauzzi: Let's switch gears for a moment and talk about the record temperatures in California this summer. Surrounding states, particularly in the northwest, would say, sure you averted a crisis, but you relied on us heavily for electricity. And the fact is California does rely on its surrounding states.

Art Rosenfeld: Oh, yes, we import 20 percent of our electricity and we plan to continue to import 20 percent of our electricity.

Monica Trauzzi: Will California ever be self-sufficient though?

Art Rosenfeld: We have no, that's not an economic. Incidentally, we import 20 percent of our electricity in the summer when it's hot in California and there's excess hydro in the Northwest. But we supply the Northwest in the winter when they need electric resistance heating, so it's a two-way street, or it's a two-way transmission line.

Monica Trauzzi: They would argue though that it's more in the reverse direction.

Art Rosenfeld: And they're making lots of money selling us electricity. What's wrong with that?

Monica Trauzzi: Let's talk about your plan for cool roofs in California. What are they and when can we expect to start seeing them?

Art Rosenfeld: OK, first of all, I should explain that a cool roof means two different related things. Starting with the 2005 new building standards if a commercial building has a flat roof, so that there are no architectural issues, then it must be white. That saves about 20 percent of the air conditioning load. And it turns out to be cost-effective in all of California's 16 climate zones, all the way from Los Angeles on the coast to Lake Tahoe in the mountains. It reduces feed power. There is, however, an architectural issue. If you go to places where they know it's hot or didn't have air conditioning, starting with the pharaohs in Upper Egypt and, of course well known around the Mediterranean, and well known in Tucson, Arizona, or parts of Florida, roofs are white already. It saves 20 percent of the air conditioning load. Californians haven't recognized that it's that hot. Although almost all new California houses have air conditioning, people still are a little bit for the nostalgic colored roofs. There is a high-tech solution which is interesting, which I'll call cool colored roofs. And that's based on the neat idea that only half of the heat from the sun is visible, and half of the heat comes in what's called a near-infrared, which you can't see. So there are now hundreds of pigments on the market, you know, all colors, which look, to the naked eye, look to the eye to be traditional colors, but which are cool in the near-infrared and which are half as good as white. Starting in 2008 all the roofs in California, all new roofs and serious re-roof jobs, will have cool colored pigments. It costs nothing, isn't as good as white, but it's half as good as white. Those savings will reduce California's air conditioning load by 10 or 15 percent on the average, which is thousands of megawatts.

Monica Trauzzi: You're credited with starting the energy efficient buildings program in California in the 1970s. What's your take on the new sustainable design and green buildings trend? Is it doing what it should be doing? Is America's perception of sustainable and energy-efficient buildings changing?

Art Rosenfeld: First of all, is it a great thing? Yes, it's a great thing. We, of course, have had cost-effective building standards since 1975. So we are more than happy that the rest of the country is coming along with the U.S. Green Buildings Council and with LEED ratings. LEED stands for "leadership in energy and efficient design." Yes, they're doing wonderful things. They're broader than just energy efficiency, includes water conservation and water recycling, being more careful about the leftovers under construction, using recyclable carpet and so on. We think it's a wonderful thing. You had a second half of your question.

Monica Trauzzi: Is American perception changing?

Art Rosenfeld: Oh, yes. American perception seems to be changing very fast. I just came from an energy efficiency summit run by the Alliance to Save Energy, this morning, in which two posts have reported recent results, the answers to recent questions in polls since gasoline prices have gone up in the last year, and since Katrina and other disasters have made us more aware of global warming. And the surprising good news is twofold. First of all, although efficiency has been a popular word, conservation has not been very popular with the American public until today. This last poll said that conservation seems to be a good idea. The more interesting set of polls recently had to do with gasoline taxes. People are beginning to realize now that we're using up the world's gasoline very unsustainably and in great competition with the Chinese. The latest polls seem to say that if you just say, are you for gasoline taxes? People still tend to say no. But if you ask, are you in favor of gasoline taxes if they will reduce prices and petroleum dependence? People say, by golly, yes! Let's do that. So even the T word seems to be disappearing.

Monica Trauzzi: Commissioner, we're going to have to end it on that note. We're out of time. Thanks for being here.

Art Rosenfeld: Thank you, ma'am.

Monica Trauzzi: This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.

[End of Audio]



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