Op-Ed: Energy Efficiency Will Save Money and Create Jobs

‘The cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use, which is the basis of energy efficiency’
Ed Potosnak

New Jersey residents are feeling the weight of the public health and economic crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As we deal with the impacts of these new challenges, we need to prioritize actions that can help our residents and our economy recover quickly.

All New Jerseyans, especially in low-income communities, are directly impacted by the urgent need for reduced energy bills. Establishing strong energy efficiency practices has the potential to save all New Jerseyans money and create thousands of good local green jobs, especially for those who pay most of their income on energy costs.

The cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use, which is the basis of energy efficiency. Ways to improve energy efficiency include better insulation of homes and buildings, more efficient appliances, LED light bulbs, improved organization design, occupancy-sensing lighting, climate controls, and other best practices. Energy efficiency helps industries, entrepreneurs, and ordinary consumers harness more productivity using less energy. In fact, most appliances have been improved through engineering innovations that massively decrease their energy consumption while maintaining their usefulness.

Energy experts also agree that energy efficiency is the best way to save customers money and help low-income families. The U.S. Department of Energy found that energy efficiency can help a typical U.S. family lower their energy bills by up to 25%. Such savings are particularly meaningful to low-income households, who often spend a disproportionately high portion of their income on energy bills.

These jobs cannot be outsourced

New Jersey can create a prosperous future for all by focusing on energy efficiency and a green jobs recovery. These good, local jobs cannot be outsourced and will provide a fair wage that can sustain a middle-class lifestyle. According to the 2020 U.S. Energy and Employment Report, the energy efficiency sector created more new jobs than any other energy sector nationally in 2018 and 2019. These jobs typically have higher than average pay, union representation, and will be especially beneficial to low-income residents. These new green jobs could be in various industries, such as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning; Energy Star factories; construction; design engineering; and weatherization to seal leaks in homes, schools, and businesses. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) consultants will be needed to advise and lead energy efficiency projects, in addition to the technical experts who do the labor.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s clean-energy plan recognizes energy efficiency measures are an important part of a clean-energy future that is both cost-effective and feasible for everyone. Additionally, under the clean-energy plan, state leadership is continuing to provide financing for energy-efficient housing and more efficient appliances.

Collectively, energy efficiency saves U.S. consumers around $90 billion every year, and New Jersey’s efforts will help our residents take advantage of these savings and lower their energy bills. However, New Jersey is lagging behind other states. In its 2019 scorecard, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy found that New Jersey’s electric savings declined by 35% from 2017 to 2018. Even worse, from 2018 to 2019 New Jersey slipped from 29th place to 34th in the council’s electric savings rank. Simply put, this means New Jerseyans are using more energy than other states and paying more on their electricity bills because we are becoming less efficient.

This year, New Jersey took a major stride toward improving energy efficiency by lifting the moratorium on smart meters, a move that will help our utilities and customers cut down on peak energy demand while making our energy grid smarter and more efficient. To make sure we prioritize establishing energy efficiency programs in our low-income communities first and foremost, we need to build the right framework for these investments and incentivize utilities to invest more robustly in energy efficiency. If we spread the financing of energy efficiency programs over longer time frames, we can lower the time it would take for customers to see savings on their energy bills.

In Pennsylvania, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy found that the state could create 30,000 new energy-efficiency jobs if they increased their energy savings programs from 0.8% to just 1.2% annually. In New Jersey, Gov. Murphy’s clean-energy plan boasts much bigger energy savings targets. The plan calls on our utilities to use energy efficiency to go from an average of 0.35% annual reduction in electricity usage to a whopping 2.1%. Imagine how many jobs we could create in New Jersey with this monumental effort; some estimates suggest over 100,000!

The public health emergency and economic disruptions our state feels right now are dire, but if we fully embrace energy efficiency by emphasizing what consumers, businesses, and utilities can do, we can save families and businesses money, secure thousands of new jobs, and empower all our communities. We should all come together to make energy efficiency and the substantial savings that come with it a priority.