12/06/2011 04:34 pm ET Updated Feb 05, 2012

Energy Department's Top Efficiency Programs Save Money and Create Jobs

If there's one item on the energy agenda that's managed to remain free of controversy, it's energy efficiency. There's no doubt about it -- wasting energy is bad. And indeed, saving energy is not only good for the environment, and our national security. It's also good for our wallets. Remember "a penny saved is a penny earned?" With energy efficiency, we're talking much more than pennies!

For the most part, SmartPower focuses its energy efficiency efforts on changing behavior. We don't do windows... and we don't do blower door tests. Our job, we feel, is to "fix" or "train" the people who live work and play in buildings across the country.

As we regularly argue, how is that all of us today are living in homes that are much more efficient than the homes we grew up in.... yet we're all using more energy? The answer lies within each of us. It's how we use energy -- and how we waste it.

That said, fixing old, leaky buildings is a major step in the right direction. And that's exactly what has me so excited about the recent successes of the Better Buildings Program.

Lost among the chatter of the much-maligned stimulus bill has been the increasing success of the Better Buildings Program. The Better Buildings Neighborhood Program is helping over 40 state and local governments develop sustainable programs to upgrade the energy efficiency of more than 150,000 buildings. Now granted, some of these programs aren't hitting it out of the park (Southeastern US and the Cincinnati programs come to mind). But overall, these programs are not only accomplishing their goals. They're exceeding them.

Three of them -- TC Saves in Traverse City, MI, the Connecticut Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge, and Bedford, New York's Energize Bedford -- are real standouts. (And I'm not saying this just because my organization, SmartPower, is involved in all three!)

Of course, you don't have to take my word for it. The DOE recently published a series of case studies and best practices, designed to assist innovative efficiency programs that can save people money and employ locals.

The Connecticut program, the Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge, includes a team of more than 20 people committed to helping residents and businesses in 14 towns reduce energy consumption by 20 percent by 2013. The goal is to save customers more than $120 million, just in energy efficiency upgrades, that can then be reinvested in the local economy.

Energize Bedford has a specific goal of completing 1,485 home energy upgrades by the end of 2013 -- part of a larger goal to cut the New York town's greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

The enthusiasm towards programs like Energize Bedford and Neighbor to Neighbor proves that energy efficiency is a no-brainer. If programs like these can be copied throughout the country, beyond the 41 programs, we could cut a big chunk out of the $300 billion currently accounted for in building energy bills.

And of course, TC Saves organizes neighborhood "sweeps" that move from community to community, fixing buildings and saving energy.

My organization has always argued that energy efficiency starts at home. And it's clear from the success thus far of the Better Buildings program that community-based efficiency programs can drive our progress toward a clean energy economy.

Brian Keane is the President of SmartPower, a non-profit marketing organization funded by private foundations to help build the clean energy marketplace by helping the American public become smarter about their energy use.