States Forced to Take Energy Lead `IF THE FEDS WON'T DO IT...'

Article excerpt

WHEN it comes to a national energy strategy, the United States is still at the drawing board.

With no decision at the top, individual states have struck out on their own. They have passed a raft of energy-conservation laws and regulations.

Among the most innovative programs:

- Washington State has upgraded its energy-conserving building codes for new homes - now the strictest nationwide. The new codes take effect next July.

- Under a new Iowa law, electric utilities that need to expand must consider cutting demand and other conservation measures before building new plants.

- In Connecticut, state-owned vehicles will have to get at least 27 miles per gallon by 1993; 45 m.p.g. by the year 2000.

"It's really absurd for us to set automotive regulations at the state level," says Mary Mushinsky, chairwoman of the Connecticut House Environmental Committee. "But if the feds won't do it, the states have to."

"In the absence of strong federal leadership and a comprehensive federal energy policy, a lot of states are stepping out on their own," says Tom Curtis, director of natural resources for the National Governors' Association.

Larry Morandi, program manager for the environment with the National Conference of State Legislatures, says state policymakers are linking environmental strategy with energy strategy.

"You get a `three-fer' out of it," explains Lawrence Alexander, a Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities commissioner. "You save valuable energy resources. You save consumers a lot of money. You do something very positive for the environment at the same time."

Energy-saving measures probably won't come cheap. The costs of reducing emissions of "greenhouse gases," for example, could range from virtually nothing to as high 6 percent of the US gross national product, the Governors' Association warned in a recent report.

In some policymaking areas, states have more jurisdiction than the federal government.

A few states have passed measures encouraging utilities to adopt demand-side management. The idea is that a power company that needs to increase its energy supply won't automatically build a new power plant. Instead, it might cut demand.

Iowa, for example, asks its electric utilities to spend up to 2 percent of their operating revenues (1.5 percent in the case of gas companies) on energy-efficiency measures. They might distribute energy-saving blankets for hot-water heaters to consumers or develop plans to retrofit the lighting in commercial buildings.

THE savings on lighting alone can be substantial. Massachusetts would have to spend about $4.5 million to retrofit its 5,000 state-owned buildings with energy-efficient lights, Mr. Alexander says. But the state could save some $7 million in energy costs during that first year alone, he adds.

Under the state utility department's new rules, Massachusetts power companies will have to consider energy-conservation and alternative-energy proposals on equal footing with traditional solutions, such as building a power plant. …