BALFOUR: Amendment 4 will help save energy, money

Photo by Michael Buckelew

Photo by Michael Buckelew

To keep the bills down, my family and I make small efforts around our home to save energy. If a faucet begins to leak, we fix it. When it's time to purchase new appliances, we look for energy-efficient models designed to lower our electric bills. If we have the heat or air conditioning on, we shut the windows.

Just as we pay utility bills for our home, the state of Georgia pays utility bills for its buildings. From university classrooms to corrections, the state must pay for water, heating, cooling and electricity just like we do. But Georgia is facing a problem, a very costly problem. Every year the state's utility costs grow as its equipment ages and our state simply does not have the money in the budget to replace or retrofit our buildings to become more energy efficient.

The private sector and nearly every other state have faced similar issues. To solve them, they have entered into what are called "performance contracts" with energy companies. In a performance contract, the state goes through an open, competitive process to choose a company to implement energy-efficiency measures.

The company selected must guarantee that the state will save a certain amount of money with the installation of energy-efficient equipment and systems. The state then uses the money saved on the bills to pay the company for its work over a period of years. As a result, no tax dollars are needed to finance the improvements. After the contract has been fulfilled, the state enjoys lower utility bills for years to come, cutting tens of millions of dollars of unnecessary spending out of the budget.

Currently, Georgia cannot do what all our neighboring states and the private sector can, because our constitution forbids the state from contracting with another entity for longer than one year. These performance contracts rely on several years' savings to pay the companies back for the energy-efficient equipment and systems that are installed.

Amendment 4 on this year's ballot will change that. If passed, Georgia will be able to engage in performance contracting only on energy-efficient matters. A "yes" vote will allow Georgia to save millions of dollars in the same way the private sector and our neighboring states have been saving for years through performance contracting. These contracts could lower our state's utility bills by more than $50 million dollars annually and this measure will bring more than 11,000 new jobs to our state.

When our home utility bills increase, we look for ways to lower them. The state of Georgia deserves the same opportunities to lower its bills as the private sector and other states enjoy. This November, join me and vote yes on Amendment 4.

For more information, visit the Taxpayers for Energy Efficiency website -- www.YesToAmendment4.com.

Sen. Don Balfour serves as chairman of the Rules Committee. He represents the 9th Senate District, which includes a portion of Gwinnett County. He may be reached by phone at 404-656-0095 or by e-mail at don.balfour@senate.ga.gov.