How can New Jersey can create the foundation for a just, green recovery?
Invest in energy efficiency!
While the COVID-19 crisis is far from over, now is the moment to position ourselves for an effective and inclusive recovery. This recovery must address not only the major economic crisis we find ourselves in, but also the deep-seated societal inequities exacerbated by the pandemic and highlighted by recent protests. As we revitalize and rebuild the state economy, we must empower ALL communities to create resilient economic corridors.
If utilities and government policy-makers prioritize and strategically invest in the energy efficiency industry, New Jersey can achieve sweeping benefits to our financial and physical health. A robust energy efficiency industry creates permanent local jobs, which spurs our local and state economies. Just as importantly, energy efficiency upgrades to housing and facilities can improve the health of many by resolving issues with moisture and air flow while furnishing the cleanest, cheapest form of energy.
State leadership can kickstart a green, just recovery NOW with just a few simple actions:
Step one: Don’t wait for the official start date! Start workforce training early, and launch utility programs ahead of schedule.
The energy efficiency industry lost a staggering 70% of its workforce over the course of the coronavirus pandemic. These massive losses served as the backdrop for the release of the ambitious and forward thinking BPU 2020 Order to Establish Energy Efficiency and Peak Demand Reduction Programs. Yet the current timeframe does little to acknowledge the impacts COVID has had on this industry and delays the start of job-creating programs until July 2021.
By adjusting the timing of certain program features, the BPU has an opportunity to throw a lifeline to the energy efficiency industry when we need it the most.
As all utilities in the state will be regulated by this framework, the resulting statewide programs will require hundreds, if not thousands, of trained workers, representing a huge workforce development opportunity for New Jersey. In their rollout of these programs, the BPU should acknowledge the impacts of COVID by launching utility energy efficiency portfolios prior to July 2021, provided there has been a thorough review of the filings. The sooner the programs start, the sooner the industry will achieve economic relief.
Additionally, the BPU and other stakeholders could start virtual worker training programs in January of 2021 to engage unemployed workers sooner and ensure New Jersey has a shovel-ready workforce for the utility programs’ start date. Energy efficiency is a diverse sector — with jobs in construction, manufacturing, engineering, architecture and customer service — that offers unemployed workers new career paths, and worker training provides jobs now and careers for later.
Step two: New Jersey has two powerful financing tools at its disposal — let's put them to work!
C-PACE and the Green Fund are innovative financial tools that can attract private dollars. In the short term, private investment will aid the state as it looks for ways to create an economic stimulus without public dollars. In the longer term, these funding tools make energy efficiency upgrades, such as replacing window systems or deep energy efficiency retrofits and repairs, affordable by way of low rates and longer financing terms tied to the property itself. Small businesses, environmental justice communities, and homeowners alike can benefit both economically and from a health perspective from deeper energy efficiency upgrades.
The current C-PACE program is a great start, but it needs to be amended and implemented statewide to allow for robust private investment. Additionally, starting an ambitious Green Fund program will foster first-of-their-kind equity-focused programs. It also has the capacity to fund projects that integrate current energy efficiency, public health, environmental priorities, as well as forward-looking beneficial electrification and resiliency goals. There is currentlyfederal legislation aimed at facilitating this effort.
Step three: New Jersey can prove its commitment to equity with accessible community-based programs that improve health outcomes and lower energy costs for ALL.
New Jersey’s answer to this pandemic must include a response to the glaring environmental justice issues that have been exacerbated by the public health crisis and economic downturn. Health problems in so many communities stem from housing that is inefficient, has been poorly maintained by building owners, or is located in unhealthy industrial environments. These conditions affect health outcomes and economic ability for large swaths of the population. New Jersey cannot ever truly recover if it continues to leave communities behind.
Committing to a community-based whole-home approach invests in communities, spurs economic growth, and brings the entire state to a new level of economic and environmental wellbeing. Programs that remove administrative barriers and integrate programs that prioritize healthy and energy efficiency homes (lead removal, WAP, ect.) will make it easier for residents to participate. Additionally, sourcing, hiring, and training a local workforce can create trust along with economic stability. Programs that focus on improving places, not people, can serve as the foundation for a truly just, green recovery.
We don't need to wait to start a just, green recovery.
Energy efficiency is a job-creating powerhouse with proven resilience in times of economic downturn. Just as in the past, our industry stands at the ready to help New Jersey rebuild at this pivotal moment. The state cannot lose sight of its energy efficiency, clean energy, and environmental justice goals during this public health crisis. This is why EEA-NJ has endorsed the Platform for a Just, Green Recovery from Jersey Renews, which can ensure that New Jersey rebuilds with both resiliency and equity. The time to take action is now.