Time to Get Serious About Saving Energy

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In the current economic turmoil, you might think that this is the wrong time to advance energy efficiency reforms in Russia. But it is actually the perfect time to implement these programs because they can generate new sources of capital and strengthen the economy.

The Kremlin understands this very well. Last summer, President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree calling for new laws to create "energy-efficient" technologies and setting a goal of slashing the country's energy wastefulness by 40 percent by 2020.

The good news is that technologies are now available to allow Russia to create new supplies of energy to help meet its domestic and export needs. Stated another way, $100 spent on efficiency can free up more energy than $100 could create through expanded production. Furthermore, investing in these projects can generate high rates of return on investments.

We suggest four proposals to help Russia capture these opportunities:

1. Create a single agency with the authority to advance energy-efficiency policies. Currently, these responsibilities are scattered across different departments in the federal government.

2. Strengthen energy efficiency building standards. Commercial, residential and public buildings consume more than 50 percent of the country's total energy usage. Fortunately, Russia has some of the most progressive efficiency standards in the world, but these laws must be quickly reauthorized to remain in force beyond 2010.

3. Pass new laws to limit the amount of energy household devices can use. There should also be mandatory appliance labeling that allows consumers to compare models based on their electricity consumption.

4. Pass a new law to establish efficiency targets for boilers and pipes. Nearly 70 percent of the heat supplying Russia's buildings is generated by large "district heating" systems. Unfortunately, this system is very inefficient; as much as 25 percent of the heat escapes before it reaches apartments. New legislation also should mandate the installation of meters and temperature controls in buildings so that utility bills can reflect actual energy use.

Energy efficiency has huge paybacks and during a crisis this should be appreciated more than ever.

Mark Izeman is a senior lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Edith Pike-Biegunska is a lawyer working in Russia as an Alfa Fellow.