Save Energy, Save Land, Save Money

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by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

Most of us think about saving energy when we turn out the lights or adjust the thermostat as we leave for work. Motivations to conserve can be both altruistic and economic.

But our small individual actions can really add up. Did you ever wonder what happens on a regional, statewide, national or global scale when hundreds, thousands or millions of small energy-saving actions are combined? The Wilderness Society’s recent paper, “Energy Efficiency: Saving Energy Saves Land,” illuminates the amazing power of individual choices to save both energy and land.

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When we flip on the lights, we’re usually not thinking about the multiple power plants and grid needed to supply electricity to our light bulbs, TVs and blenders. And it’s even less likely that we’re thinking about the kind of fuel required to power these plants.

Whether coal, natural gas, nuclear fuel or biomass, each fuel must be mined or harvested, then processed and transported. The electricity must travel along transmission lines and substations to our homes. This requires land – lots of it!

The Wilderness Society calls this “energy sprawl” and estimates that a single 1,000-megawatt coal-fired power plant requires roughly 23,000 acres of land. Only 1,000 acres of land are used for the power plant itself; the rest are needed for mining, waste disposal, transmission lines, rail spurs and more.

If we can reduce the demand for power, we can reap huge dividends for the environment by saving land. Conservation of energy is by far the best and most efficient way to help the environment. The Wilderness Society estimates that higher federal standards for energy efficiency in home appliances have already reduced U.S. annual consumption by the equivalent of 283 500-MW coal-fired power plants, saving over 3.2 million acres of land! But there’s so much more that can be done.

California has long led the nation in energy efficiency strategies, including consumer education, innovative technologies and higher standards for automobiles, building codes and appliances. As a result, the Golden State reduced its energy demand by the equivalent of 24 additional 500-megawatt power plants. Per-capita electricity use in California was 7,500 kilowatt hours in 2008, far lower than the national average of nearly 13,000 kilowatt hours per person.

If the entire United States were to adopt similar energy efficiency measures, the Wilderness Society estimates we would reduce our per-capita demand for electricity by 40 percent, saving millions of acres from energy sprawl.

Given these tremendous benefits, Governor Christie’s draft energy master plan for New Jersey must place energy efficiency and conservation at the top of its goals and strategies.

Conserving energy and being energy-efficient costs us little and preserves the land – as well as its many critical functions like flood control and water purification. Conservation is the logical number-one strategy any sensible energy policy or plan.

The public comment period for New Jersey’s draft energy master plan ends on Thursday, Aug. 25. Please contact the state Board of Public Utilities at empadmin@njcleanenergy.com and urge them to make energy conservation the plan’s top priority. To mail a letter, send to: Evelyn Dowling, NJBPU Office of Communications, 44 South Clinton Avenue, PO Box 350, Trenton, NJ, 08625.

In the meantime, you don’t have to wait for government to act before you can make a difference. Cut your energy consumption today and know that you’ll be saving money and land!

Check out the link between energy and land by visiting the Wilderness Society website at http://wilderness.org/content/bright-idea-how-saving-energy-saves-lands.

And if you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.


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