Rep. Rolfes: Saving energy can equate to saving dollars

One of the biggest issues facing us today is the cost of fuel and its effects on our economy and our lives. From getting to work, running a business, heating a home this winter or dealing with the related rise in prices of food and other items, the cost of fuel is impacting and will most likely continue to impact the way we live.

While our presidential candidates put forth policy ideas to combat this issue at the national level, state and local officials, business leaders and homeowners around the country are quietly making common sense changes to reduce energy consumption and maximize efficiencies. And entrepreneurs are stepping forward to help, with solutions that may lead to long-term shifts in our fossil fuel dependency.

Wynn Brower, a fourth-grader in Indiana, made national news recently when his science fair project helped show that by simply shutting down their computers at night, his local county officials could save $25,000 a year in taxpayer dollars and wasted energy.

It may sound simple but ideas like Wynn’s are changing the way we do business and saving resources all across America. The change usually begins with someone asking, “What can we do to save some money?” Multiply that by thousands of citizens right here in Washington and you have the makings of a quiet energy revolution.

Our state government also is feeling the effects of high energy costs and legislators here are committed to saving every taxpayer dollar that we can through conservation efforts. Over the years, Washington has become a world leader in initiatives to reduce energy consumption. I believe our state policy should pioneer reforms and new technologies that save us money and are better for the environment.

We were the first state in the nation to pass a green-building law for all new schools and state buildings, setting the bar for energy-efficient construction. This year, we’ll begin an innovative program to help low-income residents weatherize their home with new energy-saving materials that will lower utility bills while improving health and safety.

Thanks to early investments in the burgeoning technology of low-emission vehicles, the state’s fleet now consists of 703 gas-sipping hybrids. Our motor pool ranks second among all states in the number of hybrid/electric vehicles and fourth among all public sector fleets. The fuel savings realized for us, the taxpayers, will amount to nearly a million dollars over two years.

As a state, we’re also investing in alternative energy projects that may be imitated around the nation as we look for other ways to fuel our economy. Utility companies were directed by voters in 2006 to invest in renewable energy. In Thurston County, energy performance engineers are working to turn the methane released from a sewage treatment plant into electricity that will provide the heat to several nearby buildings around the state capital campus.

In Olympia, someone asked the same question as fourth-grader Wynn Brower. Energy-saving software now being implemented throughout government agencies will automatically shift idle computers into a lower power setting when not in use during the work day. This will save an average of $20 per computer, per year, and millions of pounds in pollution emissions. To put it in perspective, the Department of Transportation alone has more than 7,200 computers — that’s a lot of potholes that could be filled.

While these efforts won’t lower the cost that we pay for fuel at the pump this summer, they will lead our country in its transition to a new way of thinking and a new energy economy. The energy revolution has begun, and it will rely on forward-thinking elected officials and citizens, entrepreneurs who see the potential and the next generation of eco and dollar-conscious dreamers like one fourth-grader from Indiana.

For more information about the state’s energy policy, including energy assistance for low-income homeowners, visit www.cted.wa.gov.

Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) is the State Representative for the 23rd Legislative District.

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