- Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was on the McKinsey & Co. team that a decade ago produced an influential report on energy efficiency concluding the resource could provide $1.2 trillion in savings through 2020.
- Buttigieg's work at McKinsey lasted less than three years and ended in 2010, but a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) he signed has come back to dog the candidate.
- Most of the leading Democratic candidates have energy efficiency included in their policies or have discussed the resource's importance. Advocates say President Trump's policies have held back energy efficiency advancements.
Despite the controversey surrounding Pete Buttigieg's time at McKinsey & Co., energy efficiency advocates say his work on a major efficiency report could be an asset.
The Trump administration has taken a hostile approach to energy efficiency, according to observers, and so any of the Democratic candidates' policies would be an improvement.
"Having a President who understands that type of stuff is useful," American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy Executive Director Steve Nadel told Utility Dive. "Obama could nerd out with the best of them ... I suspect Buttigieg would be in that category as well."
In a Saturday blog post, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., defended his work at the consulting firm.
Buttigieg said that as an associate "the bulk of my work ... consisted of doing mathematical analysis, conducting research, and preparing presentations. I never worked on a project inconsistent with my values, and if asked to do so, I would have left the firm rather than participate."
Not much is known about Buttigieg's work at McKinsey, due to the NDA he signed. The global consulting firm's work has come under scrutiny recently, including an investigation by The New York Times and ProPublica into recommendations it made to the Trump administration's Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Among Buttigieg's known work at McKinsey is a 2009 report "Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the US Economy," which was covered by both the The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal at the time. Buttigieg was not the report's author, but was on the team that produced the research.
"This was a major study," said Nadel. "It got a lot of play and helped identify a lot of energy efficiency opportunity."
The study, completed in 2009, concluded a $520 billion efficiency investment could slash the United States' energy use in 2020 by 23%.
Energy efficiency is widely recognized as a key to helping meet global climate goals. However, the International Energy Agency in April concluded advances in efficiency have been slowing for years. And the Trump administration has undertaken a series of rulemakings that efficiency advocates say are slowing progress.
Since Trump took office, the U.S. Department of Energy has missed more than a dozen deadlines to review appliance standards, and has undertaken rulemakings that advocates say are designed to slow efficiency improvements in areas like light bulb efficiency standards and product testing.
The attacks on energy efficiency and appliance standards "are from a philosophical position that regulation is bad," Lauren Urbanek, senior energy policy advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Utility Dive.
If a Democrat wins the presidency in 2020, they can move quickly in 2021 to support efficiency efforts by withdrawing draft rules or dropping legal defenses where advocates have challenged new efficiency policies.
"We're glad a lot of Democrats are saying supportive things about efficiency, we just wish they'd get into a few more specifics," Nadal said.
Buttigieg's own plan calls for the United States to "increase productivity by prioritizing energy efficiency" and includes new tax incentives for efficiency, including a tax credit for commercial building efficiency.
“We're seeing a wide recognition in the primary field that far more aggressive action on energy efficiency is a key part of any climate strategy," Ben Evans, vice president of government affairs and communications with the Alliance to Save Energy, told Utility Dive.
"Most of the candidates' plans have a combination of efficiency efforts ranging from residential and commercial buildings to the transportation sector," Evans said. "There are countless tools available, from strengthening investments in R&D and ramping up federal incentives for upgrading homes and buildings, to updating appliance and equipment standards and revamping our transportation network to be more efficient."
Correction: The McKinsey report cited $1.2 trillion in estimated energy efficiency savings. An earlier version of this story included an incorrect figure.