Op-Ed: Energy Efficiency is the Most Cost-Effective Tool to Fight Climate Change Right Now

Lloyd Kass | December 10, 2019 | Opinion
New Jersey has one of the more ambitious clean-energy agendas in the country, but it’s a mediocre performer when it comes to energy efficiency
Lloyd Kass

New Jersey now has impressive plans to take bold climate action. Last year’s Clean Energy Act set a new path for clean energy in the state, and more recent discussions in Trenton around the Draft Energy Master Plan demonstrate a commitment to reduce carbon emissions in the energy, buildings and transportation sectors.

A major expansion of energy efficiency programs for residents and business owners has been presented as central to the state’s environmental and economic future — and this is the right thing to do. Despite our state leaders’ good intentions and their improved engagement of stakeholders around clean energy of late, we need to move much more rapidly — act now — to truly scale energy efficiency in our communities, homes and businesses.

A recent report from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy raised New Jersey’s energy efficiency national ranking by one spot, to No. 17, in recognition of the state’s laudable clean energy goals. The same ACEEE report points out that New Jersey’s energy-efficiency savings achievement is actually on the decline and is a small fraction of leading states’ program performance.

The ACEEE scorecard also provides an energy efficiency roadmap for New Jersey going forward. Of the 17 states achieving the most savings, 16 have followed a similar approach: empowering their utilities to pursue energy efficiency and achieve significant mandated savings. In those states, utilities have had to change their business models. No longer do they make more money by selling more energy but, instead, they are rewarded for helping customers reduce their energy consumption.

New Jersey’s largest electric and gas utility, PSE&G, has seized the moment with an ambitious proposal that matches the aims of the energy efficiency provisions of the Clean Energy Act. PSE&G’s landmark $2.5 billion Clean Energy Future – Energy Efficiency proposal is a “no regrets” set of solutions that will rapidly put the utility and its customers on a path toward the state’s mandatory energy savings targets.

Fearful of delay

PSE&G submitted this proposal to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities more than a year ago. It is worthy of the BPU’s immediate attention. Through the Energy Master Plan and other stakeholder processes, the BPU is carefully formulating procedures for implementing its energy efficiency targets. However, waiting until those procedures are finally in place will delay real progress until 2021. Moving forward now with PSE&G’s energy efficiency proposals, which are based on the most successful programs in other states, would allow New Jersey families and businesses to reduce their energy consumption and save money, while addressing an urgent climate action item.

As companies like mine know well, utilities can be leaders in scaling energy efficiency. With the right incentives, companies like PSE&G can leverage their powerful and unique assets to effectively reach customers and help them save energy. Utilities have the brand presence, data infrastructure and customer relationships necessary to turn energy efficiency into a serious energy and carbon-reduction resource.

And we cannot understate the jobs impact of expanded utility energy-efficiency programs.  Energy efficiency jobs make up 2.3 million of the nation’s 3.3 million clean-energy jobs, and PSE&G’s proposed programs will create tens of thousands of jobs in New Jersey.

Despite having one of the more ambitious clean-energy agendas in the nation — talk is cheap — New Jersey is still a mediocre performer when it comes to energy efficiency. If our goal is to generate clean energy and lower emissions then the time to act is now, and energy efficiency is the most cost-effective tool we have to fight climate change and safeguard the well-being of future generations.