By Michael McNutt
A bill signed into law Tuesday kicks off an energy conservation program for state agencies and educational institutions estimated to save the state as much as $500 million over the next 10 years.
Senate Bill 1096, called the Oklahoma State Facilities Energy Conservation Program, directs all state agencies and higher education institutions to achieve an energy efficiency and conservation improvement target of at least 20 percent by the year 2020. The measure takes effect in late August.
Fallin said the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a nonprofit group interested in advancing energy policies, has ranked Oklahoma as the fourth-worst state in the nation as it relates to energy conservation and energy efficiencies.
"That's not acceptable," Fallin said. "We can do better ... and today marks that new day that we are going to do better.
"Not only have we been wasting our precious natural resources of energy, but we've also been wasting hundreds of millions of dollars in the process," she said. "That's money that we could be using for ... essential government services, such as education, health and human services, public safety and transportation."
Fallin said SB 1096 would transform the state into one of the best energy-efficient states.
"At home, we work real hard to look for savings and energy efficiencies," said Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, the bill's author. "Small businesses -- they're doing the same thing. Those savings are real. ... It's something we need to embrace on the state level."
"Long term," said Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, the House author of the bill, "this is the right thing to do not only for the environment, but for the financial savings that we're going to see for decades to come. It's just going to be fantastic."
OSU is a model
The state effort is patterned partially after the success of an energy conservation program that began in 2007 at Oklahoma State University.
OSU President Burns Hargis said his institution has saved more than $19 million in energy costs across the Stillwater campus since initiating the energy conservation program. OSU has topped 19 percent in savings since launching the effort.
"At the beginning, it seemed almost impossible that you could achieve the kinds of savings that were being suggested through sheer behavior change," Hargis said. "A lot of it is common sense."
Heating and cooling systems are turned off when a building is unoccupied, and students, faculty and staff are encouraged to turn off lights and to power down electrical equipment when not in use, he said.
"Turning your computer screens off at night -- a screen saver does not save energy, it just saves the screen," Hargis said.
OSU worked with Energy Education Inc., of Dallas, which has been helping schools and churches save energy for years, Hargis said.
Energy savings allowed OSU to open five new or renovated buildings on campus without increasing the overall maintenance and operation budget, he said. The program is a behavior-based effort that requires no significant financial investment.
"It's all about turning these things into habit," Hargis said.
SB 1096 sets a cumulative energy savings target of at least 20 percent by the year 2020 when compared with utility expenditures for the 2012 fiscal year, which ends June 30. Conservative projections show the state could potentially reduce energy consumption by 20 to 30 percent, resulting in about $300 million to $500 million in net savings over 10 years, Fallin said.
Under the bill, the state finance director will oversee the development and implementation of the energy conservation program, she said. The measure ensures all costs associated with the implementation of SB 1096 will be fully funded by savings generated as a result of energy conservation.