People often believe California is on the leading edge of environmental regulations and policy, and now they have proof that researchers agree. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), California is tops in employing energy efficiency as a way to grow its state economy while meeting electricity demand, combating global warming, and contributing to U.S. energy security.

The group based this finding on its State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, which rates and ranks state-level action on model energy efficiency policies, programs, and practices. This is the second year that ACEEE, based in Washington, D.C., has done the scorecard report.

In this year’s analysis, California was first, followed by Oregon, Connecticut, Vermont, New York, Washington State, Minnesota and Massachusetts (tied), Wisconsin, and New Jersey.

"The top ranked states are demonstrating great leadership in promoting energy independence with cost-effective energy efficiency investments," Maggie Eldridge, a research associate at the organization and lead author of the report, said in a statement announcing the findings. “By setting innovative policies and programs that help consumers save energy,” she continued, “states are using energy efficiency as the first line of defense against rising energy prices while increasing our nation’s energy security, fostering economic prosperity, and combating global warming."

As fuel costs rise and more Americans grow increasingly concerned with global warming, energy efficiency should be what ACEEE executive director Steven Nadel calls the “first fuel”—in other words, the first line of attack against rising fuel and environmental concerns. “[Energy efficiency] is a lot less expensive than other fuels,” he said. “It’s cleaner than any other fuel, and it’s quicker to implement than any of the other fuels.”

In ranking the 50 states and the District of Columbia, ACEEE examined eight energy efficiency policy areas: utility-sector and public benefits programs and policies; transportation policies; building energy codes; combined heat and power; appliance efficiency standards; “lead by example” practices in state facilities and fleets; research, development, and deployment; and financial and information incentives.

“We looked at things like investment in smart growth [development], money spent on public transportation, and tax incentives for hybrid vehicles,” said Max Neubauer, ACEEE policy program research assistant and co-author of the report. Moreover, he adds, the group looked at what percentage of a state’s revenue are spent on energy efficiency and looked at how strict the states enforce the building codes.

“States can earn up to 50 possible points in these eight policy areas combined, with the maximum possible points in each area weighted by the magnitude of its potential impact on energy savings,” according to the report. For example, most of the categories have a maximum possible score between two and eight, but the utility and public benefits efficiency programs and policies category had a maximum score of 20.

As the leader, California scored a 14.5 (out of 20) in the “utility” section and had perfect scores in five other categories, losing two points (out of six) in the transportation section and losing two points (out of three) in the financial and information incentives section. It had a total score of 40.5.

Second-ranked Oregon scored high in the utility section (13.5), but did poorly in the lead by example and research and development sections. It scored a 37 overall.

Connecticut also had high marks in the utility section (15.5), but also lost points in building codes (four out eight), research and development (0.5 out of two), and financial and information incentives (one out of three). Final score was 36.

Vermont scored a near-perfect 19 (out of 20) in utility and public benefits, but its other sections were unimpressive, leading to a score of 33.

The most improved states since last year’s scorecard were Idaho, Florida, Maryland, Ohio, Illinois, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Virginia. "These states have stepped up efforts in various important ways, such as setting aggressive new energy savings targets, ramping up funding for programs, or improving efficiency of the state’s own public buildings and vehicle fleets," Neubauer explained.

The 2008 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard report can be downloaded at

Nigel F. Maynard is senior editor, products, at BUILDER magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.