Energy Efficiency Scorecard: Rating the States

An annual ranking shows which states are leading the charge and which are lagging.

Energy efficiency has been a main policy focus this year, with many legislatures and governors establishing the transition to clean energy and reduced greenhouse gas emissions as top priorities. Following the analysis tracking city initiatives to advance efficiency and renewable energy released this summer, nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy just launched its 13th annual report—2019 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard—which identifies the leading states, as well as those lagging in their commitments to energy efficiency.

ACEEE’s Scorecard compared states across six policy areas: utility and public benefits programs and policies, transportation policies, building energy efficiency policies, combined heat and power policies, state government-led initiatives around energy efficiency, and appliance and equipment standards. In 2019, more states joined the ranks of California and Hawaii, setting 100 percent clean energy targets: Nevada, New Mexico, Washington, New York and Maine. Overall, 26 states now boast targets for achieving efficiency gains in the power sector.

Leading states

Massachusetts ranked first for the ninth consecutive time, supported by a strong policy framework established under the state’s Green Communities Act of 2008, which continues to be a model for others. Earlier this year, the Department of Public Utilities approved a new three-year energy efficiency plan for the state’s utilities. It includes an increasing commitment to strategic electrification through homeowner incentives to switch from oil and propane furnaces to electric heat pumps, as well as incentives to reduce winter and summer peak demand. This three-year plan also includes the goal to reduce statewide GHG emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

According to the state’s recent Global Warming Solutions Act 10-year progress report, implemented state policies have contributed to a 3.4 percent reduction in GHG emissions from 1990 levels, projected to grow to 5.4 percent by 2020.

Image courtesy of ACEEE

California’s efficiency efforts materialized in its rigorous building energy codes, standards for efficient appliances and limits on vehicle emissions. These set an example for other states such as Washington, Colorado, Hawaii and Nevada, which passed standard bills modeled after California’s. Moreover, the state has authorized $200 million over four years to advance low-carbon space heating and water heating under SB 1477. The state also launched a proceeding to coordinate its development of building codes and appliance standards with statewide goals to reduce GHG emissions from buildings by at least 40 percent, relative to 1900 levels, by 2030.

Rhode Island ranked third for the third consecutive year, tying with Vermont. Its Three-Year Energy Efficiency Procurement Plan enabled the state to continue delivering levels of electric savings that are among the highest in the U.S. In 2018, Rhode Island adopted a voluntary residential stretch code promoting goals to cut 45 percent of the emissions level of 1990 by the year 2035 under the Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014.  

Vermont has delivered savings above 2.3 percent of electric sales from measures installed in 2018 through its statewide energy efficiency administrator—Efficiency Vermont. These measures are anticipated to save more than $220 million over their lifetime. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ENERGY STAR program recognized Vermont for the success of the Efficiency Vermont Marketplace—a recently launched online tool that helps customers research efficient appliances and electronics. Furthermore, the state is undertaking a rulemaking process to adopt the 2018 IECC for residential and commercial buildings and expects it to be effective at the beginning of 2020.

New York regained the fifth position, boosted by the aggressive savings goals codified this year under the New York Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, the nation’s notorious program that targets 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040 and economy-wide net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. New York’s initiatives also include energy benchmarking, accelerated building codes and efforts to accelerate building electrification.

Maryland landed on the seventh place but improved the most since last year’s Scorecard. The state made significant gains by focusing on utility efficiency programs, building energy codes, public transit funding and electric vehicle adoption.

Trending states

This year, New Mexico Governor Lujan Grisham signed an executive order which commits the state to the Paris Agreement goals and to the U.S. Climate Alliance. The order also creates a local Climate Change Task Force that will work toward a statewide climate strategy. Specifically, the task force will aim to reduce light-duty vehicle emissions, set emissions limits through a market-based program, adopt new building codes, identify transmission corridors to transport renewable energy and strengthen the state’s renewable portfolio and energy efficiency standards. Moreover, state agencies are now required to incorporate climate mitigation and adaptation strategies into their programs and implement policies to further reduce GHGs.

Connecticut’s Executive Order Number 1, signed by Governor Ned Lamont, calls for reducing energy consumption and GHG emissions from state government operations. This means that focusing on state buildings, a committee will work on onsite heating and cooling, electricity, clean energy, vehicles, waste management, water use and product procurement to help the state achieve its sustainability goals.

In November 2017, Oregon established, through an executive order signed by Governor Kate Brown, a plan to cut energy use and carbon emission in state buildings and residential and commercial construction. Moreover, it calls for updates to building energy codes to require electric vehicle ready building construction and zero energy ready homes. New state-owned office buildings permitted after Jan. 1, 2022 must be designed to operate as carbon neutral and follow energy use and renewable energy standard requirements of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

Moreso, the Oregon order also calls for a statewide plug-load management strategy and a variety of other measures to increase the uptake of electrical vehicles, improve state standards for appliances and water efficiency and enhance coordination of energy data across the region.

Washington established several new initiatives under Executive Order 18-01 signed by Governor Jay Inslee. This order includes a focus on zero-energy buildings and requires state agencies to prioritize the purchase or lease of battery electric vehicles. It also sets goals for state agencies to acquire environmentally preferable products and sets up a governing council to oversee the goals of the executive order.


In contrast, Ohio fell in ACEEE’s rankings, as this year it enacted a law that attempts to save the state’s aging power plants but throttles energy efficiency and renewable energy standards. Iowa has slid back by having its utilities scale back spending in energy efficiency programs following a law last year that capped efficiency investments.

Kentucky also scored low, due to a 2018 decision that discontinued most of the consumer-facing management programs for a state utility—Kentucky Power. Other utilities have also seen major funding cuts.

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