Wyoming is one of the least energy-efficient states in the country, according to a ranking released by a national efficiency advocacy group. State officials dispute the rankings, questioning how they were determined and the priorities of the group.
The Cowboy State came in 48th in the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy ranking, released in a Wednesday announcement. Only Mississippi, North Dakota and West Virginia ranked lower in the list, which included Washington, D.C.
Wyoming fell far behind the states identified by the group as highly energy efficient: Oregon, New York, California and top-ranked Massachusetts.
The group — a nonprofit organization with a mission of advancing energy efficiency policies and programs — took most issue with Wyoming’s lack of energy-efficient transportation policies and appliance efficiency standards. Building energy codes and public and utility programs and benefits earned Wyoming nearly a quarter of its overall score.
The rankings are based on six criteria: public and utility benefits programs, transportation policies, building energy codes, combined heat and power — an energy recycling practice where a single generator creates both usable electricity and heat — state government initiatives and appliance efficiency standards.
The group made the announcement via a telephone press conference, but didn’t accept questions or respond to the Star-Tribune’s follow-up questions.
Wyoming’s low ranking is misleading, according to Ben Avery, business and industry division director for the Wyoming Business Council.
Many of the highest-rated states mandate measures controlling energy and appliance efficiency, he said, while Wyoming prefers to educate but not mandate.
“Wyoming traditionally believes in rights of local control,” he said, adding that the state energy office often conducts community outreach.
The state offers a small business energy audit grant program, which allows businesses to audit and retrofit more efficient technologies, among other programs.
The state has also held several seminars to teach businesses about efficient building codes, according to Sherry Hughes, energy efficiency program manager for the state energy office.
Other criteria are out of the state’s control.
Avery said the state ranks low in transportation efficiency because the vast majority of Wyoming communities don’t lend themselves well to public transit like bus lines and monorails, both of which score big in the survey.
“Some of these things are because of topography,” he said. “We have distances that are more difficult to overcome.”
Energy efficiency is important and may be included in the state’s under-development energy plan, said Renny MacKay, spokesman for Gov. Matt Mead.
“These kinds of reports, however, typically favor more populated states and states with top-down mandates for land use planning and statewide building codes,” he said.
Electric utilities in Wyoming spent $4.3 million on energy efficiency programs in the state in 2010, the last available data year, ACEEE found in a state-by-state analysis. The group highlighted Rocky Mountain Power, which it said will save 138,000 megawatt-hours and spend $25 million on efficiency programs in the state over a four-year period.
The analysis also noted a handful of company decisions that might have affected the ranking. The group highlighted a decoupling program by Questar Gas, in which a utility sets a revenue target before determining rates, and a load management tracking program from Montana-Dakota Utilities Co., which could reduce peak electric demands by curtailing usage in some time periods.
The analysis said Wyoming has no energy efficiency resource standards, no policies to reward energy efficiency and no policies treating efficiency as a resource in place. All three policies would have boosted Wyoming’s overall rank.
States bordering Wyoming were more highly ranked. Colorado, Utah and Idaho were 14th, 21st and 22nd respectively. South Dakota and Nebraska were 46th and 42nd. Montana was identified by the ACEEE as one of the most improved states from a year ago, jumping 10 spots to 25th.
The overall results of the study are encouraging, said Ben Foster, a senior policy adviser for the council, during the telephone announcement.
States saved a total of about 18 million megawatt-hours in 2010, 40 percent more than the year before, according to the group. The report also showed that companies spent $7 billion on efficiency programs nationwide in 2011.
“Efficiency continues to be a growth industry,” he said.
Foster of the ACEEE said he only expects things to get better, with several states recently implementing programs and policies that wouldn’t show results on this year’s survey.
“As the 2012 scorecard shows, energy efficiency policies and programs have continued to advance at the state level for the past year,” Foster said. “We see many signs states will continue [to improve] in 2013 and beyond.”