To build an energy efficient economy, Pa. needs to join regional greenhouse gas compact | Opinion

Keystone Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant in Armstrong County, about 50 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

By Kathy Greely

It’s a little hard to see beyond the clouds of our current moment, but the energy efficiency economy has a bright future.

Right now, the state Department of Environmental Protection is developing a rule that will shape Pennsylvania’s entry into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a program that could pour $300 million into our economy each year.

These funds offer Pennsylvania the chance to maneuver one of its most reliable industries into a position of rapid and sustainable growth, creating good jobs that stay in communities across the Commonwealth while making buildings safer, healthier, and more efficient.

With investment from RGGI proceeds, energy efficiency companies like mine can be the backbone of our economic recovery.

Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives moved to block Pennsylvania’s entry into RGGI last week with the passage of HB2025, sponsored by Rep. James B. Struzzi, R-Luzerne, which would deprive our state of the benefits associated with investment of RGGI proceeds.

Back in 2009, PSD launched its Pennsylvania operations with just one employee. Today, PSD is an industry leader with teams in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Meadville supporting new construction, running rebate and energy audit programs, and offering low-income weatherization training and quality assurance initiatives.

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For an energy efficiency company, a growth spurt like ours is not uncommon: before the pandemic, energy efficiency accounted for 71,000 Pennsylvania jobs and was growing at over five percent a year.

PSD works with 250 builders, 75 contractors, and more than 1,000 code officials across Pennsylvania. These jobs are integral to our industry and supported by energy efficiency investments such as rebates for efficient heating and cooling equipment, and incentives for super-efficient new buildings.

All of us in energy efficiency have an eagerness to sustain efforts and focus on industry growth as a whole. Investments are needed to support organizations that were forced to furlough staff due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and equally important, our industry requires significant workforce development to appropriately address properly staffing organizations responsible for meeting energy efficiency goals.

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Now more than ever, residential and commercial customers are going to need incentives to pay upfront project costs, too. RGGI proceeds, generated by qualifying power plants in exchange for the ability to emit carbon, can build on the foundation of Act 129, Pennsylvania’s flagship energy efficiency law.

While Act 129 created a robust industry with tens of thousands of jobs and generated billions for Pennsylvania’s electric customers, it has some gaps that RGGI could address.

For example, many of PSD’s programs support a “whole building” approach to energy efficiency—beyond changing a lightbulb or appliance for something more efficient, we look comprehensively at homes and commercial buildings to resolve primary issues with the building envelope and HVAC systems.

When incentives are offered solely for electricity, home and building owners miss out on energy saving opportunities associated with other fuels like natural gas.

Simply put, offering incentives for insulation, efficient heat pumps, and other technologies that reduce gas and oil consumption will result in complex projects that employ more people and achieve greater savings for home and business owners on the road to recovery.

States that participate in RGGI have invested over half their proceeds into energy efficiency, and these investments have generated over $4 billion in economic benefits – in the form of new jobs, customer utility bill savings, and public-private investment.

At a time when state budgets are crunched, $300 million from RGGI proceeds could provide a critical infusion into the economy to help companies like PSD retrofit Pennsylvania’s buildings and train the workforce we’ll need, bringing much-needed jobs to the areas most affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

When incentives for deep efficiency projects are readily available, the effects ripple out across communities: families with lower utility bills can spend more on local goods and services, and businesses that spend less on energy can spend more on payroll or capital investment. In this way, energy efficiency investments are a win-win-win that will ensure that RGGI delivers not only less pollution, but more jobs, more savings, and a stronger economy for Pennsylvania.

I applaud Gov. Tom Wolf for his leadership in advancing a rule that will allow Pennsylvania to join RGGI. The Governor and Department of Environmental Protection should continue moving forward without delay.

Finally, I encourage members of the Pennsylvania Senate to consider the potential benefits of a $300 million dollar annual investment into Pennsylvania’s energy efficiency future and reject HB 2025, which would stop all progress on RGGI. Instead, the Senate and House should seek to play a constructive role in the development of a plan to invest RGGI proceeds into Pennsylvania communities.

Kathy Greely is the Senior Vice President, Program Services at Performance Systems Development, a company that specializes in innovative program design and implementation, engineering and training services, and software solutions for the energy efficiency industry with teams in Meadville, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia.