In the epic battle to combat climate change and address the growing need for affordable power, it helps to have everyone working for a common cause. Luckily, while the federal government has emphasized, with rhetoric and dollars, the vital role of energy efficiency, so has the utility sector.

Measuring growing program budgets as an indicator of the expanding interest in this issue, the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) reports that efficiency programs administered by North American utilities is on a dramatic upswing in popularity. Specifically, according to the CEE’s Annual Industry Report, efficiency programs grew by about 36 percent in the United States and Canada, gaining $1.5 billion in funding over 2008, from roughly $4.5 billion to $6.1 billion.

Looking at the two countries separately, the report notes that, since 2006, the combined budgets reported for electric and gas programs in the United States have more than doubled, growing from $2.6 billion to $5.3 billion. Similarly, in Canada, program budgets have grown by 40 percent since 2007 to $765 million.

The bulk of the dollars are being spent on electrical efficiency. According to the report, U.S. utilities budgeted $4.4 billion on electrical programs, compared to $930 million for gas programs. U.S. electrical programs have grown by more than 80 percent since 2006.

The report also breaks down results by region, and Western states accounted for the greatest portion of the U.S. total for budgeted efficiency programs, with $2.4 billion. Of that total, California was the undisputed leader, with $1.6 billion budgeted for electrical and gas programs last year, more than half of the Western states’ total.

The report estimates efficiency programs resulted in the savings of 104,900 gigawatt-hours of electricity and more than 367 million therms of gas in 2008. These savings avoided the production of more than 61 million metric tons of CO2, and saved ratepayers more than $9.7 billion in electric and gas costs.

The CEE is a consortium of efficiency program administrators from across the U.S. and Canada who work together on common approaches to advancing efficiency.