It looks as though renewable energy beat out energy efficiency in Olympia. The Washington legislature was willing to pay people to make electricity, but unwilling to pay people to save it. That’s a mistake.

Although both efficiency and renewables are clearly important, ramping up energy efficiency is probably a higher priority in the short term, simply because it’s cheaper. As the Rocky Mountain Institute frequently points out, the cost of “nega-watts” (saved electricity) is typically much lower than the cost of megawatts (generated electricity), no matter how they’re produced. Economic theory says that the smartest thing to do is to make the cheapest energy buys first, and use the savings to help purchase the more expensive ones later.

Focusing on renewables is right, and smart over the long term. But in a tight budgetary climate, you should make the best buys first.