Energy efficiency is key to swift, equitable recovery

By Erin Cosgrove, EEANJ
New Jersey | May 22, 2020 at 4:53 am
Op-Ed

The latest report from E4TheFuture and Environmental Entrepreneurs paints a bleak picture: The nation lost more than 400,000 clean energy jobs since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, with the bulk of these — a commanding 70% — in the energy efficiency industry. For New Jersey, which is poised to launch expansive energy efficiency programs, this is the worst possible moment to sustain such staggering energy efficiency losses.

The energy efficiency industry is the foundation of New Jersey’s clean energy transformation. Energy efficiency workers complete everyday jobs — construction, manufacturing, engineering, architecture and customer service — that work to lower energy use. Lower energy usage reduces bills, lessens dependency on fossil fuels and provides a stronger foundation for a clean energy and resilient future for New Jersey.

When New Jersey passed the Clean Energy Act, it set the state on a pathway to a clean and resilient future, with energy efficiency as a key component. As energy efficiency programs are implemented in the next coming year, the demand for skilled energy efficiency workers and innovative projects will be immediate and urgent. Losing these businesses now will further delay New Jersey’s economic recovery and endanger the state’s ambitious and urgent climate action goals. Policymakers have solutions to protect this industry at their fingertips and need to take action now.

It is in the state’s best interest to prioritize energy efficiency, as this industry boosts small business growth, lowers energy bills for residents, mitigates air pollution and provides economic stimulus in alignment with climate goals. Experience shows that investing in energy efficiency works: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 prioritized housing retrofits through the successful Weatherization Assistance Program, which supported the creation of 28,000 jobs and increased national economic output by $4 billion.

On the local level, the effects of energy efficiency investment are seen quickly: A funded pipeline of projects provides work for small businesses, jobs for local residents and lower energy bills for consumers. This stimulates spending in the community. On a grander scale, energy efficiency can help bring the state out of the recession by creating jobs and helping businesses and families lower their energy bills. New Jersey can achieve these results in its recovery process if utilities and government policymakers make strategic investments.

This job-creating sector needs urgent action to survive. Other states, with adequate health and safety measures in place, have deemed select energy efficiency work low-risk for COVID-19 transmission, including the work of construction and building inspectors. New Jersey should quickly emulate these states to revitalize its workforce and alleviate new burdens brought on by the pandemic.

State government and the Board of Public Utilities can take immediate action to safely kick-start economic recovery for energy efficiency by expediting and greenlighting energy efficiency programs currently planned. Workers stand at the ready to complete projects with proper public health measures in place, such as retrofits and electrification in empty schools and government buildings, as well as infrastructure and power grid improvements on highways with reduced traffic. Additionally, as part of future economic stimulus, the state can invest in scalable remote workforce training programs to help displaced workers find new careers and ready the industry for future demand.

Prioritizing energy efficiency in economic recovery can also help alleviate energy burdens caused by COVID-19 displacement. Low-income residents observing stay-at-home guidelines pay a disproportionate amount on energy bills and are likely using more energy than ever. Compounding this is the fact that, in New Jersey, older housing stock is disproportionately inefficient. If unaddressed, these issues will only exacerbate energy burdens for residents. The state should implement a process to identify these new energy imbalances and quickly resolve them.

Energy efficiency offers cost-effective economic benefits to businesses and residents and creates jobs that stay in New Jersey’s communities. It should be the backbone of a swift, equitable economic recovery. New York, Connecticut, Michigan and numerous other states are deploying health and safety guidelines for energy efficiency and clean energy businesses, and will soon reap the economic benefits. Action from the BPU and state government will show New Jersey that the state values its residents’ economic future, its energy efficiency workers and its commitment to a resilient, clean energy future.

As New Jersey rebuilds, the energy efficiency industry stands ready, shovels in hand, to help.

Erin Cosgrove is policy counsel for the Energy Efficiency Alliance of New Jersey and the Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance in Pennsylvania. Together, the groups represent 70 companies working in the energy efficiency industry.

ROI-NJ Staff | editorial@roi-nj.com | @roinjnews