Forging the Future for Energy Efficiency: Selected Highlights

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Guests mingle in the exhibitor hall. Forging the Future Future for Energy Efficiency took place May 11-12, 2022, at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

 

“In the energy efficiency industry, when anyone asks what you do for work, you can say ‘I’m saving the world.’”

— Keynote speaker Will Ellis, Vice President of Government & External Affairs at Pepco and self-proclaimed #EEGuy. 

Keynotes: Fighting for Climate & Equity

Ellis kicked off KEEA & EEA-NJ’s 11th Annual Policy Conference with an inspiring keynote. His biggest message: our industry must rise to the challenge of addressing climate change while advocating for underrepresented and underserved communities.

Ellis emphasized that we are fighting for so much more than just bill savings. Equity, he argued, should be front and center as we forge the future for energy efficiency.  These themes of equity, opportunity, and tackling the defining challenges of our time continued to resonate throughout the two-day conference, shaping conversations across panels and topics. We heard about the vast need to address aging and inefficient housing stocks, energy poverty and inequity, and low-income and frontline communities experiencing increased susceptibility to climate change impacts.

In his opening remarks introducing Ellis, CLEAResult VP Andrew Fisk, stated: “We believe that diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential to winning the fight against climate change.” EEA board member Ben Adams, VP at MaGrann Associates, later observed that while we are in the midst of an existential climate crisis, we also face three associated societal crises: housing, equity, and public health. Energy efficiency has a critical role to play in addressing all of them. 

Pennsylvania State Senator Nikil Saval (D-1 Philadelphia) highlighted each of these intersecting needs and opportunities for energy efficiency in his keynote address on the conference’s second day. Senator Saval is the lead sponsor of the bipartisan Whole-Home Repairs Act (SB 1135). This bill is designed to deliver a one-stop-shop for Pennsylvanians to access resources that improve the health, safety, and efficiency of their homes.

Saval explained that the legislation is focused on three intersecting strategies: (1) repairing homes, (2) supporting communities and particularly supporting underinvested areas experiencing rural and urban blight, and (3) developing a local workforce to do this important work. The Whole-Home Repairs Act was introduced in March and is currently under consideration in the Senate Urban Affairs & Housing Committee. 

Day 1 Keynote Speaker, Will Ellis, addresses the crowd on utilities, energy efficiency, & equity.

Day 2 Keynote Speaker, Sen. Nikil Saval, answers questions about Whole-Home Repairs.

Coordination is Key to Advancing EE

On Day 1’s New Jersey EE Landscape panel, presenters discussed the State’s program transition and the appointment of a Statewide Coordinator. They described the hard work that went into organizing the utilities around a consistent framework, with the aim of ensuring that customers and trade allies can move seamlessly between coordinated gas and electric utility programs and avoid market confusion. Susanna Chiu, Director of Energy Services at PSE&G, echoed the need to support equity in the workforce and engage diverse trade allies in utility energy efficiency programs.

Later in the day, Pennsylvania panelists emphasized the need for similar coordination across utilities as well as adding new EE programs for natural gas and improving cross-sector collaboration. Other presenters highlighted the need to engage with the contractor workforce and bring them on board in order for programs to be successful.

The New Jersey Panel. Susanna Chiu (PSE&G), Anne-Marie Peracchio (NJNG), Stacy Ho Richardson (NJBPU), & Preethy Thangaraj (Governor’s Office).

The Pennsylvania Panel. Greg Poulos (CAPS), Heidi Kunsch (PA DEP), Elizabeth Marx (PULP), Scott Gebhardt (PA PUC), & Joe Nunley (PSD).

 

Growing the EE Workforce

Later attendees heard from the Workforce Development Panel on the twin challenges of a growing labor shortage and the lack of workforce diversity, equity, and inclusion in hiring approaches, leading to underrepresentation in the efficiency industry. Panelists highlighted the need for holistic approaches that reduce barriers and connect workers to recruitment, training, and job placement. Alison Diehl, Director of the Clean Energy Center at Pennsylvania College of Technology, urged focus on more effective recruitment strategies and marketing energy efficiency as a good career path. 

Walt Yakabosky, Director of Training for the Energy Coordinating Agency (ECA), joked that we need to recruit and train the next generation so that he could finally retire. He’s tried and gotten called back not once, but twice! The more serious side to Yakabosky’s story illustrates the larger trend of a dwindling skilled workforce, which could threaten our industry’s ability to implement energy efficiency measures at the scale and pace needed over the next decade. 

Concerned about an impending workforce cliff as large numbers of skilled workers near retirement, Diehl said she would love to see a new superhero action figure on kids’ shelves of an energy efficiency worker—decked out with a blower door and all—to excite and inspire the next generation to pursue these careers. After all, energy efficiency workers will be the ones saving the world.

 

 

ECA’s Walt Yakabosky explains his retirement attempts, along with panelists Paul Douglas (JPI Group), Waltasia Mansano (PSE&G), and Alison Diehl (Clean Energy Center).

New Opportunities

The conference was a reminder that there is a lot of important work for all of us to do to continue forging the future for energy efficiency, and there are exciting new opportunities as well! Historic new federal funding coming to the State Energy Offices and other positive state policy initiatives underscore the important role for energy efficiency in addressing our infrastructure and societal needs, as well as the latticework of partnerships needed to make that work a reality. 

Did you attend the conference? We’d love to hear your feedback via our post-conference survey. If you aren’t already, consider becoming a member of KEEA & EEA-NJ to stay in the loop on policy & action opportunities and help us continue to shape the EE landscape going forward. Contact Jeaneen Zappa at jzappa@energyefficiencyalliance.org for more information.

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