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Now That's A Stimulus...

This is pretty impressive:

California’s energy-efficiency policies created nearly 1.5 million jobs from 1977 to 2007, while eliminating fewer than 25,000, according to a study to be released Monday.

The study, conducted by David Roland-Holst, an economist at the Center for Energy, Resources and Economic Sustainability at the University of California, Berkeley, found that while the state’s policies lowered employee compensation in the electric power industry by an estimated $1.6 billion over that period, it improved compensation in the state over all by $44.6 billion.

Built into that figure were increases of $1.2 billion in the light industrial sector, $11.2 billion in wholesale and retail trade, $7.3 billion in the financial and insurance sectors and $17.8 billion in the service sector.

We've covered this before, but efficiency measures are far and away the quickest, cheapest way to make massive emissions cuts and curb energy use. In theory, if every state adopted the efficiency measures that California has on the books, we could cut electricity consumption by 40 percent and would never need to build a single new polluting power plant again—all without hiking energy bills. And, while some entities lose money (the electric power industry, say, or developers who have to spend more upfront on green buildings), everyone else ends up better off. It's sort of like trade, in a sense.

What's especially interesting about efficiency improvements is that you don't need a carbon tax or cap-and-trade regime to bring them about—California certainly hasn't had either over the last 30 years. A lot of it just involves rejiggering the rules of the market: If, for instance, utility profits are "decoupled" from how much electricity they actually sell, then utilities have incentives to reduce their load and get people to conserve. In other cases, California has just experimented with smaller rules—say, requiring that residential air ducts leak less than 7 percent of the air they carry, rather than the typical 20 to 30 percent leakage in most homes; or painting roofs white.

Now, Congress can't really mandate these things, but it could certainly help bankroll state efficiency programs—say, providing matching funds. As a stimulus program during a recession, this seems like a no-brainer, and would be a good thing to get going now, while energy prices are starting to slack, rather than sit around twiddling our thumbs and wait for commodity prices to rise again.

--Bradford Plumer