Truman National Security Project

4 Reasons Why You Should Care About Energy Efficiency in California


After a lengthy battle over the allocation of Proposition 39 funds, the California Energy Commission is finally gearing up to release the application for funding to school districts. This commitment to energy efficiency is good news for Californians and represents a growing trend that extends past schools to university campuses and military bases.

Energy efficiency is not sexy. Images of compact fluorescent light bulbs and colorful but childish utility company PR campaigns tend to come to mind when you think about conserving energy. But over 30% of all the energy used in the US is consumed by buildings, and improving the efficiency of those buildings could yield almost a trillion dollars’ worth of savings over the next decade. Leading from the front on energy and the environment is nothing new in this state and the scope of these efforts is broader than one might think. Here’s why Californians should care:

Passed by voters in 2012 and set to go into effect this fall, Prop 39 devotes a quarter of a billion tax payer dollars—over five years—for the purpose of improving the energy infrastructure of our state’s schools. This allows districts to lower their gas and electricity consumption and reinvest those avoided costs into their general funds.  While the financial benefits are massive, if done correctly, the indirect advantages of these improvements will be remarkable too. These sorts of energy projects—typically improve classroom ventilation and comfort by replacing outdated, inefficient equipment and optimizing the performance of existing equipment. Simply put, saving energy in schools will benefit our children’s learning environment.

Our higher ed system—The University of California and California State University—are getting even smarter, too. University administrators faced with ever tightening budgets have embraced the energy efficiency movement. The recent California Higher Education Sustainability Conference highlighted recent projects at UC Santa Barbara including efficient campus lighting and dashboards that show real time energy usage in buildings across campus. By tackling energy innovation through common-sense planning, our universities are both leading the nation and training the next generation of energy innovators.

At the same time, our military can save cash and focus on keeping servicemembers safer. Recognizing the inherent threat posed by a dependence on oil as a single source of transportation fuel, the US military stands at the forefront of clean energy innovation and energy reduction strategies. Our warfighters rely on fuel supply chains that are subject to the threat of hostile actors, while the 32 military bases located in California are mostly subject to the same utility company shortages and rate increases as the rest of us. Fortunately, federal mandates to reduce energy consumption and increase renewable production are starting to kick in; you can expect California military bases, many of which are located in ideal locations for solar, to become community beacons of smart and efficient energy usage.

We’ll need all the energy we can get, because San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) is being decommissioned. For the 1,100 power plant workers who will lose their jobs in the coming months, the closure of SONGS is certainly nothing to celebrate.  However, the sudden increased awareness of where we get our power and how it is delivered is an important step towards changing the political climate in which we discuss energy efficiency. Southern California Edison has already warned that closure of SONGS may result in rolling blackouts throughout Southern California this summer. In response to the potential power shortfall, state officials admitted that “the future grid will need to be more decentralized and flexible”. While the state scrambles to bring additional resources online, this is an ideal time to focus on how much we use and why.

We live in a state that has been at the forefront of the environmental movement for a long time. As citizens, we must continue to participate and actively engage with the goal of making our state even more energy efficient. Innovating in energy efficiency makes both operational and economic sense across any industry. With our school districts, universities and military leading the way, there’s no better time than now.

Andrea Marr is a Defense Council Member.