OPED: Pa. energy policy — more jobs, lower bills

MATT ELLIOTT, Guest-Column
FILE- This April 2006, file photo shows The Four Corners Power Plant in Waterflow, N.M., near the San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico. While the nearby San Juan Generating Station will factor into New Mexico’s proposed goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by one-third, the Four Corners Power Plant - which is located within the Navajo Nation - won’t. The Navajo Nation is pursuing an ownership stake in a coal-fired power plant in New Mexico as many utilities are divesting from the energy source. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)

More than $4 billion in benefits. About 57,000 jobs created. 6 million metric tons of annual carbon emissions avoided. These significant numbers are the result of a Pennsylvania law passed in 2008 that has been paying dividends to the citizens of the Commonwealth ever since. The law? Act 129, designed to decrease the waste of energy in businesses and homes across the state, and in doing so, help strengthen the economy, lower electricity prices for all consumers, and help provide cleaner air.

Since the passage of Act 129, Pennsylvania homeowners and business owners have saved more than $750 million on their electricity bills by becoming more energy efficient. This amounts to $2 in savings for every $1 invested under the program.

Now the state is poised to save even more energy as it continues with the successful policies that were implemented in Act 129. In fact, according to an analysis released by the Public Utility Commission, Pennsylvania has the potential to decrease its electricity usage an additional 27 percent over the next 10 years.

The shift to more energy efficient businesses and homes has been a boon for the state’s economy. Pennsylvania already employs more than 57,000 workers in advanced energy jobs, including energy efficiency and renewable energy, at more than 4,200 mostly small- and medium-sized businesses. They include scientists, researchers, engineers, construction workers, manufacturers, and system installers, according to a report by the Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance (KEEA) and Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2). These are energy jobs that cannot be outsourced, and generate dollars that remain in Pennsylvania, contributing to the growth of local economies across the Commonwealth.

Nationwide, this sector of the economy grew four times faster than U.S. GDP last year, and is now a $200 billion industry, nearly the size of the consumer electronics industry, according to the trade association Advanced Energy Economy (AEE). In 2016 alone, the energy efficiency sector is projected to add 260,000 new jobs, a 14 percent increase from 2015. Smart state policies such as Act 129 helped attract thousands of these jobs to Pennsylvania, and will continue to do so as the industry grows.

The job growth has also been spurred by the state’s alternative energy portfolio standards, which requires 18 percent of all electric power to come from clean energy sources, such as wind and solar, by 2021. But other states are seeing even more growth because of even more supportive clean energy policies. That is all the more reason why Pennsylvania businesses and residents should continue to support and take advantage of Act 129 in its third phase, which will unlock additional cost-effective energy efficiency measures in the coming years.  And our lawmakers in Harrisburg must do all they can to keep these programs whole during the third phase.

The benefits so far from Act 129 are clear. To date, the program has saved more than 8.7 million megawatt hours of electricity per year, equal to the energy consumed by more than 800,000 homes. The result is over $4 billion in net benefits to consumers by avoiding the significant additional costs to generate and transmit electricity.

In the third phase of Act 129’s programs, lasting five years from June 1, 2016 to May 31, 2021, another 6.6 million megawatt hours can be saved. That will result in another $1 billion in net savings from utility investment alone.

Here is one example of how increased energy efficiency adds up. Masters Building Solutions recently retrofitted the North American Pipe Corporation’s manufacturing plant in Leola, PA. Some of its equipment was installed more than 20 years ago when electricity was nearly 50 percent cheaper than it is today — built for another era and wasting energy. With additional improvements – new chillers, a cooling tower and state-of-the-art operational systems to monitor and control energy usage — this Pennsylvania manufacturing facility is saving roughly $100,000 a year, money that can be reinvested in the building, used to hire additional employees, and be circulated back into the local economy.

The move towards more energy efficient buildings is good for the economy, good for everyone who pays an electric bill and good for the environment. That is all the more reason why we should celebrate the Pennsylvania’s progress under Act 129 to date, and reject any efforts to weaken or undermine these programs.  We applaud Pennsylvania’s ongoing commitment to energy efficiency that will bring about additional energy savings, put more people to work, and attract new industry to the Commonwealth over the third phase of these programs.

— Matt Elliott is executive director of Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance.