A chill is in the air, as spooky season brings stories of wily witches, ghouls, and goblins. But as you switch on your heater and prepare for the cold months ahead, there is yet another fright to keep your sight set on: energy vampires. Sucking electricity from the grid (and money from your pocketbook), everyday appliances are haunting your home.
Energy vampires are appliances that continue to use power while plugged in (called phantom power loads), even when turned off or not in use. That’s pretty scary, considering how many appliances the average American leaves plugged in! A 2015 study by the Natural Resource Defense Council found that the average home in California had 65 devices plugged in at any given time, with the resulting phantom power loss making up about 23% of annual energy consumption for households in that state. Curious to know how much you might be spending to feed these suckers? Check out Duke Energy’s Energy Vampire Calculator. This wasted energy can make a big difference for the over 45 million U.S. households with high- or severe energy burden (meaning folks who are spending over 6% or 10% of their income, respectively, on energy bills).
The burden of these energy costs is not evenly spread. A 2023 policy brief by Professor Diana Hernández titled “Energy Insecurity and Health: America’s Hidden Hardship” reports that 25-33% of U.S. households experience energy insecurity (meaning inability to meet their energy needs), which is linked to numerous adverse health outcomes. Some protections exist for certain populations, like the elderly, but low-income households, renters, households with children, and households with members who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color remain disproportionately at risk.
The U.S. Department of Energy notes that there are steps consumers can take to cut down on their energy bills by reducing phantom power loss—including regularly unplugging devices, using timed power switches, and buying ENERGY STAR-rated appliances. Still, stronger energy efficiency policy is needed. Professor Hernández reports that federal policy aimed at assisting low- and moderate-income households in improving energy efficiency (the Weatherization Assistance Program) has had limited success, but points to positive policy trends, noting that the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)—which provides funding to state energy offices for various building energy efficiency programs—prioritizes energy efficiency incentives for low- and moderate-income LMI households.
The IRA’s equity focus is crucial as, according to a report by Just Solutions Collective on “Energy Burden & the Clean Energy Transition,” one key challenge to addressing energy burden in the clean energy transition is lack of funding available for upfront costs of energy efficiency improvements for low- and moderate-income households. Just Solutions Collective notes that states can help reduce energy burden by taking actions to make buildings more efficient, while ensuring that costs for those improvements aren’t shifted to tenants. At the state level, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy recommends that state decision makers (including utility commissioners, state energy offices, and policymakers) prioritize robust community engagement; utilize environmental justice screening and mapping tools; make clear and concrete commitments to the public using understandable metrics; monitor costs and benefits, especially those impacting low-income communities; and more, to make energy efficiency programming more equitable.
With millions of Americans already facing high energy burden and insecurity, phantom power loss from energy vampires is a real fright. State action on energy efficiency has the potential to substantially benefit both the climate and consumers. In 2023 so far, over a dozen states have enacted bills to track or advance residential energy efficiency, many with provisions to ensure that low- and moderate-income households benefit from the initiatives. Funding opportunities under the IRA will likely accelerate such efforts. The number of state actions is almost dizzying. See below for a roundup of all of that recent state legislation advancing energy efficiency.
2023 State Legislation Advancing Energy Efficiency
Arkansas appropriated funds for its state agency to administer energy efficiency programs and earmarked $385,000 for rebates and incentives through its program Energy Efficiency Arkansas.
In California, amendments to the Building Energy Savings Act clarified that the utilities that serve buildings, not small building owners, must collect energy usage data. The Act charged the Energy Commission with making a plan to use this data to achieve GHG emissions reductions targets for the building sector. California also clarified that its building energy efficiency standards apply to sealed and unvented attics. Additionally, a new law included energy efficiency safeguards and expanded incentives for solar energy systems on low-income, multifamily buildings. It tasked the Public Utilities Commission with establishing energy efficiency requirements under the Multifamily Affordable Housing Solar Roofs Program and developing local hiring requirements for solar projects on these buildings. Finally, legislation was enacted to assure accountability for California’s Equitable Building Decarbonization Program, which, among other things, funds projects that increase buildings’ energy efficiency to protect against extreme heat.
Colorado expanded and clarified the applicability of its energy efficiency standards to several products, including air purifiers, certain fluorescent lamps, commercial ovens, and electric vehicle supply equipment, among others. Colorado also ensured that home warranty service contracts that provide replacement of gas-fueled appliances will include terms requiring the warranty service companies to make sure replacement appliances meet state energy efficiency standards (and that homeowners have the option to swap their old gas appliance for a new electric one!).
Delaware amended its Energy Efficiency Investment Fund requirements to allow more small businesses, local governments, and nonprofits access grants or loans for energy efficiency improvements by increasing the Fund’s contribution to such projects from 30% to 60% of qualified project costs.
Hawaiʻi lawmakers acknowledged the burden of high energy bills on residents while expanding the authority of the chief energy officer of the Hawaiʻi State Energy Office to amend and set rules to enforce efficiency standards for certain products.
Illinois amended its Energy Efficient Building Act, altering the dates for the adoption of the state’s Stretch Energy Code. The code will allow municipalities to set stricter minimum energy efficiency requirements for buildings than the Illinois Energy Conservation Code requires, and will also allow for municipalities to set different standards for commercial and residential buildings. The code will be completed and available to be adopted by June 30, 2024. Illinois also amended its Capital Development Board Act, mandating that newly constructed or substantially improved commercial buildings cannot be occupied until various safety, environmental, and energy requirements—including the Energy Efficient Building Act and the Illinois Stretch Energy Code—are met.
Maine lawmakers enacted two bills to relieve residents’ financial burdens while complying with various state energy efficiency standards and programs. First, Maine passed an act to support lower home energy costs by establishing a home energy scoring system, which requires that the Maine Efficiency Trust create a process for determining residential buildings’ energy efficiency and a database for compiling its findings. The act also requires that the Trust prepare energy efficiency disclosure statements for landlords to provide to residential renters. Second, Maine eliminated the state’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Resource Fund, requiring that those funds instead be used to provide lower future renewable portfolio standard compliance costs to low-income households.
Maryland passed the State Sustainable Buildings Act of 2023, requiring Maryland’s Department of General Services to establish and regularly update energy conservation standards for State buildings. Maryland lawmakers also passed an act requiring that the Maryland Public Service Commission provide an annual report on low-income energy efficiency and conservation to the state’s General Assembly. The act also mandates that Maryland’s Department of Housing and Community Development identify funding resources that could expand state programs supporting energy efficiency and other home upgrades, and requires the Department to work with the state’s Green and Healthy Task Force to create a plan and a timeline for providing energy efficiency retrofits to low-income households.
Minnesota appropriated funds to launch a clean economy equitable workforce grant program, which will be administered by nonprofit organizations in the state and will provide workforce training and career development opportunities to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in the clean energy and energy efficiency fields.
New Hampshire amended a state energy performance contracting law to mandate that requests for qualifications or contract proposals cannot require accreditation by or membership in energy associations, the use of equipment not generally available to energy services companies, or terms of bias or favoritism.
Oregon declared a climate emergency in the state, highlighted its climate goals, and designated standards and state agency programs for energy efficiency in commercial and residential buildings. Program topics include assessments of energy use in state-owned buildings, heat pump initiatives, and ensuring that residential buildings in environmental justice communities have reliable and affordable heating and cooling systems. Oregon also enacted a separate law dedicated to offering funding and technical support to environmental justice communities to ensure an equitable and affordable transition to energy efficiency in the state.
Texas enacted a law establishing parameters for state energy conservation programs, allowing program portfolios to include a diverse mix of natural gas energy conservation, energy efficiency, financial and technical assistance programs to meet the energy needs of low-income households, and more.
Washington enacted a law outlining how to use the state’s district energy policy in coordination with building performance standards to reduce emissions from commercial and state-owned buildings, develop energy performance standards, conduct energy efficiency audits, invest in energy efficiency technology, and more. Washington also enacted a law governing energy service contracts, aiming to decarbonize buildings and public facilities in cost-effective ways through a variety of methods, including the implementation of energy efficiency technologies.