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The Southern Company (SO), Alcoa Inc (AA): Does This Government Program Actually Work?

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How much does the United States spend every year to power our country’s commercial buildings and manufacturing centers? Go ahead, ballpark it.

The Southern Company (NYSE:SO)Fools, its $400 billion. Four hundred billion! That number is huge. But the nice part about huge numbers is that, at least in this case, minor changes can yield savings numbers that are relatively high. That’s the goal of the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge. More specifically, the project aims to cut energy use by 20% by 2020.

The program launched in December 2011. Now that it’s received and processed a full year of data, let’s look at how it’s performed and what investors should take away from it all.

The program
The Better Buildings Challenge is geared to create jobs and reduce our energy waste, in turn saving buckets of cash. The goal of the program is to get our country’s leading organizations — be they corporations, universities, or city governments — to cut energy use in their buildings by 20% over a 10-year period. So who’s on board? Maybe some of your best investments.

The Southern Company (NYSE:SO)‘s Georgia Power subsidiary is a founding partner of Atlanta’s Better Buildings Challenge, which aims to reduce energy consumption and water consumption by 20% by 2020. Georgia Power’s headquarters in the city are currently in phase one of the program , and the company played a leading role developing the energy use audit process for the program.

Alcoa Inc (NYSE:AA) is a big-time energy consumer, using about 40 trillion BTUs to power 29 industrial facilities every year. Since its baseline year in 2005, the company has reduced its energy use by 12%, including a 1% drop in 2012.

Johnson Controls Inc (NYSE:JCI) is in the business of building efficiency, so it was no surprise when the company joined the initiative this February. It has made some significant commitments, including reducing its energy consumption by 25% in 71 of its U.S. manufacturing facilities by 2019. If you think that sounds ambitious, remember that this company previously reduced energy consumption by 25% between 2002 and 2008.

Sprint Nextel Corporation (NYSE:S) also jumped on board in Febraury, plediging to drop energy consumption 20% by 2017. Sprint Nextel Corporation (NYSE:S) is not new to implementing environmentally friendly energy initiatives, currently generating 5% of its energy from renewable sources.

3M Co (NYSE:MMM) has signed on to reduce energy consumption by 25% in 95 of its plants. The conglomerate has set aside $1 million in each of the past two years to implement energy efficiency projects. It has already managed to drop its energy use 23% from its baseline level in 2005.

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