States are backing big energy-efficiency programs, spurred by the belief that they could hold down heating and electricity bills, as well as cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

The programs, usually funded by surcharges on utility bills, help customers weatherize their homes and install new lighting systems, among other things. Total annual spending on the efficiency programs is expected to rise from $3.1 billion in 2008 to $7.5 billion to $12.4 billion by 2020, according to a study released this month by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.

Galen Barbose, a staff research associate at the national lab, said the spending increase has been so sharp "that there's an emerging shortage of trained professionals to design the programs, measure results and do the actual work of retrofitting buildings."

While it is difficult to measure precisely how much energy has been saved with energy-efficient technologies, consumer demand has fallen in the past two years, the first reductions in consecutive years since the end of World War II. The recession may explain part of that decline.

The third-annual scorecard from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a 30-year-old nonprofit advocacy group, was released Wednesday. The scorecard looked at six measures, including spending by utilities on energy-efficiency programs, state transportation policies, state building codes and appliance efficiency standards. It used 2007 data, the last year for which complete data are available from all states.

The states with the strongest programs, according to a scorecard released Wednesday, are California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Oregon, New York, Vermont, Washington, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Maine.

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Studies indicate it's far cheaper to invest in energy efficiency than to build new power plants. A separate study by ACEEE, the scorecard author, found that it costs an average of 2.5 cents to save a kilowatt hour of electricity through the programs. Building new resources like power plants, by contrast, would cost three or more times as much, not counting pollution costs.

Speaking at a press briefing on the release of the scorecard in Washington, Maine Democratic Gov. John Baldacci said 80% of homes in Maine are heated with oil and state officials want all homes weatherized by 2030 to trim oil imports. His state recently updated its building codes with an eye toward energy savings.

Four states -- Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Delaware -- recently approved programs calling for utilities to set energy savings goals. Delaware Democratic Gov. Jack Markell said his state wants to cut energy use 15% by 2015.

Even states with longstanding energy-efficiency programs, like California, are expanding their programs.

California utility regulators approved a program last month authorizing utilities to spend $3.1 billion from 2010 through 2012, including on programs to cut energy use 20% at 130,000 homes, install energy-efficient lighting at businesses and help cities and counties cut electricity and natural-gas use in public buildings. The state hopes the next push will eliminate the need for three additional 500-megawatt power plants.

Dian Grueneich, a member of the California Public Utilities Commission, said her agency directed utilities to rely less on compact fluorescent light bulbs for energy savings and "reshape 200 scattered utility programs into 12 statewide programs" to create a more uniform market for products and services.

Although California represents about 12% of the U.S. population, it now accounts for about a third of all energy-efficiency spending. State energy officials created a policy in 2003 that says growth in energy demand must be met first through energy-efficiency efforts and subsequently through conservation, renewable energy or traditional resources. Similar measures have been adopted in Delaware and other states.

The scorecard ranked 11 states at the bottom: Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Georgia, Alaska, West Virginia, Nebraska, Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota and Wyoming. Many are states with no mechanism to compensate utilities for revenues lost as a result of efficiency programs. Several of these states now are looking at changing their policies.

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