Energy-efficient progress

South Carolina’s economic future depends on a sufficient supply of reliable, cost-efficient and environmentally safe energy in the coming decades. All sides should recognize the importance of all three considerations in the continuing debates about the pros and cons of coal, natural gas, nuclear and emerging alternatives such as wind, solar and biomass.

But our state’s elected leaders, and its people, also should recognize the positive potential of another powerful way to advance all three causes — energy conservation.

And while South Carolina still has a long way to go on that common-sense front, we’re making major progress, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The ACEEE, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that promotes energy conservation, recently moved us up six places on its annual State Energy Efficiency Scorecard.

OK, so being the 40th-ranked state in this critical 21st century challenge still isn’t much to brag about.

But it beats the heck out of the No. 46 rating we got last year from the ACEEE, which now lists us, along with Oklahoma and Montana, under “most improved.”

The rankings are based on “utility and ‘public benefits’ programs and policies; transportation policies; building energy codes; combined heat and power (CHP) policies; state government-led initiatives around energy efficiency; and appliance and equipment standards.”

And thanks to the efforts of our state and local governments, utilities and consumers, we’ve escaped the bottom 10, which now includes (from Nos. 41-50): Nebraska, Louisiana, Missouri, Kansas, Alaska, South Dakota, Wyoming, West Virginia, North Dakota and Mississippi.

The new top 10: California, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Washington, Maryland and Minnesota.

ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel, in a written release, hailed the emerging realization, across the political spectrum, of a rising need:

“These findings show that energy efficiency is being embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike at the state level. That nonpartisan status is crucial because too many conversations about U.S. energy policy begin with the false premise that the only way to safeguard our reliable energy future is to expand our supply.”

Yes, expanding our domestic energy supply remains a crucial task.

But over the last decade or so, some Americans on the political right have wrongly slipped into a single-minded “drill, baby, drill” mentality that ignores long-term supply — and demand — realities. This one-way track also ignores the traditional link between conservatism and conservation.

Regardless of who wins the presidential and other elections on Nov. 6, it’s just common sense to improve energy conservation. After all, as Founding Father Benjamin Franklin wisely advised, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

That same practical principle can make energy saved energy earned — and plenty of dollars, too — in South Carolina and throughout the nation.