More U.S. states have adopted or advanced new energy-saving targets and vehicle and appliance rules, but COVID-19 slowed other efficiency efforts, according to the 2020 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard. For the first time in four years, California took first place nationwide, edging out Massachusetts, the leader in the Northeast. Other regional leaders include Minnesota in the Midwest, Colorado in the Southwest, and Virginia in the South.
The 50-state scorecard (which also includes Washington, D.C.) from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that states, many of which have set ambitious climate goals since 2018, had to abruptly shift their focus this year to mitigate the health and economic impacts of the deadly global pandemic.
Rounding out this year’s top 10, are Massachusetts (#2), Vermont (#3), Rhode Island (#4), New York (#5), Maryland (#6), Connecticut (#7), Washington, DC (#8), and Minnesota and Oregon (tied for #9).
The report, which examines policies and programs adopted through July, scores states on 32 metrics in five areas. No state earned all 50 possible points (California got 43). For the first time, the report highlights top scorers regionally:
- Massachusetts (#2), the leader in the Northeast, continues to excel on multiple fronts, including advanced efforts to integrate and align efficiency rules with electrification and building decarbonization strategies.
- Minnesota (#9), the Midwest’s leader, continues to report strong results from utility-run programs that help customers save energy and is developing draft rules for a Clean Cars program that would adopt California’s tailpipe and zero-emission vehicle standards.
- Virginia (#25), the South/Southeast region’s leader and a top energy story of 2020, adopted its first-ever energy-saving target—known as an energy efficiency resource standard (EERS)—and raised minimum funding levels for efficiency programs for low-income, elderly, or disabled individuals as well as veterans. It became the first Southeastern state to set a 100% clean electricity goal.
In each region, the report identifies a “state to watch,” where promising developments are emerging. Along with Virginia, New Jersey (#17) is the most recent to adopt specific energy-saving targets for utilities, and regulators there are seeking to ensure that low-income customers have equitable access to energy efficiency programs. Michigan (#13) regulators recently approved utilities’ plans to expand efficiency programs. Washington (#11) is working to implement 2019 laws requiring 100% clean energy by 2045 and a first-of-its-kind statewide standard for reducing energy use in existing large commercial buildings.
The report examined energy efficiency policies across five primary areas, identifying states that have adopted best practices in each, as well as opportunities ahead:
- Energy-saving targets. Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont have adopted energy efficiency resource standards (EERS) —with efficiency programs saving more than 2% of retail sales, the highest levels in the nation. As of 2020, 27 states have adopted some form of EERS.
- Vehicle efficiency. Twelve states have adopted California’s Low-Emission Vehicle (LEV) standards and Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program. Many of these states, including California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, have also set goals to reduce vehicle miles traveled or transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.
- Building codes. Close to a dozen states and D.C. made progress strengthening efficiency standards for new construction. These include many states in which the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) has gone into effect in recent months, including Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Vermont. A new model code, the 2021 IECC, offers states an important opportunity to ensure that new buildings lock in low energy costs for generations of future residents.
- Appliance and equipment standards. California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New York, Vermont, and Washington have each passed appliance standards updates since early 2019 that are expected to save consumers hundreds of millions of dollars on utility bills. A few of these standards counter rollbacks of federal standards.
- State government initiatives. California, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont led in in offering loan and grant programs to spur energy savings, setting efficiency standards for public buildings and fleets, and investing proceeds from carbon pricing policies in efficiency programs.
The scorecard, now in its 14th edition, is based on data collected from states, utilities, and numerous publicly available sources. Government staff members from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., were given the opportunity to comment on a preliminary draft of the findings.