Randy Hafer
Randy Hafer of High Plains Architects shows off the rainwater collection system, which meets the entire building’s water needs.

Randy Hafer, president and CEO of High Plains Architects in Billings, thinks the projections are far too conservative.

A study released late last month by the Consumer Federation of America forecasts the potential for 20 to 30 percent reduction in energy consumption over the next two decades, based solely on energy efficiency measures already available.

Hafer, whose firm designed the highly energy-efficient Northern Plains Resource Council headquarters in Billings, believes we can do better than that.

“There’s so much incredible low-hanging fruit,” he said. “Why? Frankly, because what we’ve been building is really inefficient.”

Though most energy-saving solutions are neither cutting edge nor sexy, many are highly effective and even affordable. By switching to compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), consumers can save 75 percent in lighting costs, he said. And water consumption can be cut in half, just by changing to more efficient shower heads and toilets.

 “These things aren’t expensive,” he said. “Windows tend to run more, but there’s a huge payback. And once you’ve paid them off, it’s free.”

The High Plains Architects building, 2720 Minnesota Ave., features a rainwater collection system that allows the business to avoid a monthly water bill.

The CFA’s study, published by director of research Mark Cooper, touches on a similar theme. Rather than spar over climate change and carbon trade, he focuses on efficiency, particularly in light of current climate change legislation. His findings, based on an analysis of existing studies, show that by placing more emphasis on efficiency, the average consumer could expect to see net savings between $200 and $299 annually on utility bills, even after shelling out for the efficiency upgrades. On a national level, a study by McKinsey and Company forecasts a net savings of nearly three quarters of a trillion dollars.

“It costs much less to save energy than to produce it, so household expenditures for electricity and natural gas can be dramatically reduced by policies to aggressively promote energy efficiency,” Cooper wrote. “This provides a huge cushion of cost savings to consumers while also making climate change policies more cost-effective and affordable.”

Cooper adds that the significance of efficiency savings will be magnified if carbon legislation is passed.

According CFA’s report, the potential exists to reduce energy consumption by as much as 1 to 2 percent per year for the next 20 years, totaling 20 to 30 percent overall. And, according to Cooper, those savings would come at less than half the projected cost of energy.

Savings would vary by state, with the largest reductions expected in states where utility bills are currently highest. Net savings for Montanans, who pay relatively low rates, would run between $103.17 and $154.75 per year.

Cooper believes that the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 does not place enough emphasis on efficiency. Its goal of an 8 percent reduction through efficiency savings fails to take advantage of the much larger potential, he argues.

To support his position for more aggressive efficiency policy, he cites the success achieved by states with higher standards. Energy consumption in Vermont, now considered the most aggressive in promoting energy efficiency, ran slightly higher than the national average in the early 1970s. Three decades later, energy consumption there had dropped to 30 percent below the national average.

“The fact that a significant number of states have achieved a much higher level of efficiency is an indicator of the possibility for a much higher level of performance by all states,” Cooper wrote.

Hafer favors “carrots” like subsidies and tax credits to encourage energy efficiency.

“We’ve subsidized the oil industry from the beginning,” he said. “It’s OK to subsidize a different approach.”

Though he doesn’t support every measure in the federal energy bill, Hafer is not willing to wait for perfection. If the nation takes steps in the right direction, momentum will follow, he said.

“Efficiency is the cheapest and easiest thing to do,” he said. “But trying to get 300 million minds wrapped around this takes some time.”

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