California seeks energy savings as economy sours

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - Economic turmoil won't stop investments that help the environment, but the focus will be on saving energy and money rather than massive change, a top California environment official said.

The trend-setting state plans aggressive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, but it may be trickier in the middle of melting down markets. California is arguably the leading state in the mortgage crisis.

"We are very mindful of the fact that people are nervous about the economy," Mary Nichols, chairman of the Air Resources Board which is planning the states carbon reduction plan, told the Reuters Global Environment Summit.

"I don't want to say we are in favor of bad times, because we are certainly not, but the fact that we are in a time when energy prices are so high actually is a help in reminding people that the cost of emitting greenhouse gases is the cost of wasted energy," she said.

State plans to reverse the increase in carbon dioxide and other gases that trap heat and raise global temperatures range from a carbon trading scheme for utilities and other polluters, to encouraging solar energy, to credits for more efficient appliances.

For now, the premium will be on energy efficiency projects which save money and also tend to have the greatest benefit for climate, she said.

"We know we also need new technologies and transformative technologies, and some of those are going to be moving online, but I think for the next year or two we're going to see people looking at stuff they can do to save money on their electricity bills, on their natural gas bills and be willing to move forward those projects that have the greatest likelihood of producing savings quickly," she added.


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