People often ask me why states should prioritize clean energy policies when these same states and the people who live in them are struggling with so many financial challenges. Shouldn’t state governments focus all of their attention on creating jobs? The fact that better state energy policies create jobs and save money for ratepayers is precisely why now, more than ever, states should focus on these policies.
A recent commenter challenged me to “prove it.” So, from the great state of New Jersey, here is some proof:
- After seven long months of unemployment last year, Darius Williams has a job, as a home weatherization outreach worker for the utility PSE&G. The position is a welcome relief—Williams has two young sons to support. Williams’ job is also an opportunity to share the wealth with others. He offers free energy audits and weatherization services — that’s right, free! — to residents of East Orange and Orange, all of it thanks to New Jersey energy policies. “The job helps me provide for my family,” Williams says. “And most of the people I contact are happy to see me. When I tell them the services are free, they say, ‘I don’t believe it!’ But a lot of them follow up with me after they’ve had their weatherization and there’s been nothing but success so far.”
- William Paterson University, part of the New Jersey state university system, is projected to save more than $4 million over the next 15 years as a result of these policies. The savings will help William Paterson keep tuition low, thereby increasing educational opportunity for New Jersey residents.
- In Freehold, retiree Anthony Cristofaro replaced his home’s outdated furnace and air conditioning units for considerably more efficient ones, with the help of rebates from the state. As a result, he got a free home energy audit, an additional $900 rebate and a $1000 worth of subsidized weatherization from his local utility, New Jersey Natural Gas. Now his family is saving cash on their gas and electric bills. “We’ve become very efficient,” says Cristofaro, proudly.
- And in Hopewell Valley, the school district has been able to retain its beloved teachers and maintain its high educational standards at a time of severe financial cutbacks. Rather than paying for extra energy that dirties our air and contributes to the deterioration of our atmosphere, the district has benefitted from state-supported energy-efficiency programs that have cut energy use and freed-up millions of tax-payer dollars over the last 10 years — dollars that are being used to educate its children.
By putting forward-thinking energy policies in place, such as the state’s Energy Master Plan, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and related legislation, an earlier generation of New Jersey legislators, governors and other policy makers have delivered all of these benefits to their constituents. Now, though, some oil-industry-funded critics have called for Governor Christie and other policymakers to abandon them. I could respond to them directly. But I think Jerry Bontempo, another formerly-unemployed New Jerseyan who now works as a weatherization staffer for PSE&G puts it best: These programs, he says, have “enabled me to help people make their houses more efficient and comfortable, save money, and help the environment. That’s a win for everybody.”
And now, for those with an inner policy wonk who want to understand more about how all these policies generate change, here is some basic information about energy that will help explain:
- When we pay our electric and heating bills, a huge chunk of the money we spend goes out-of-state or out of the country to bring in fossil fuels – primarily coal and natural gas, but in some areas, heating oil, too.
- When utilities invest in energy efficiency, they pay local contractors to weatherize homes and install more effective heating and air-conditioning systems. Or, these utilities help local businesses reduce energy waste and increase their competitiveness. All that helps keep money in the local economy.
- It is cheaper for utilities to deliver energy efficiency than electricity and heating fuels. But most of them don’t focus on efficiency because under our current perverse regulatory systems, they are only allowed to make money by selling power, not by promoting energy efficiency.
- If states reform their regulations, utilities can spend a much larger percentage of our energy dollars on efficiency, thereby creating jobs in local communities and lowering energy bills for consumers and businesses. Such reforms can deliver the same practical effects as offering huge tax cuts, but without creating similarly huge budget deficits.
- As I’ve mentioned before, according to the high-powered business consulting firm McKinsey & Co, if we were very smart about this and invested in all cost-effective energy efficiency, by 2020, we would save $1.2 trillion on our national energy bill (yes, that is equal to a $1.2 trillion tax cut) while creating almost 1 million jobs.
If we take the money we already spend on our energy bills every month and invest it in energy efficiency, we can create more jobs like the ones that moved Mr. Williams and Mr. Bontempo off the unemployment rolls. We can put real money in real people’s pockets. Smart energy policies will help spread the financial benefits that the Cristofaro family, William Paterson University and Hopewell Valley schools now enjoy. That’s an opportunity we should embrace, especially during these financial hard times.