Boosting Energy Efficiency in the Keystone State


Running for office repeatedly in New York, one particularly memorable candidate achieved fame for his years of crusading against high rents in his state. Turns out this is a nationwide challenge, as a Harvard study and a major real estate research firm have found. Pennyslvania faces this threat to affordability as well.

Out-of-control energy bills are contributing to this challenge. Thanks to Act 129, state and utility officials have programs for upgrading building energy-efficiency. However, multifamily housing has historically received less attention and investment than other buildings. In Pennsylvania, this is especially onerous for those living in the 7 percent of housing stock that qualifies as affordable multifamily - a whopping 370,000 households. These homes are at risk of becoming unaffordable thanks in part to high energy bills, and tenants can ill-afford the costs: In fact, in proportion to income, utility bills for affordable housing residents are typically 10 times higher than for higher-income households!

A new, groundbreaking Potential Study from Energy Efficiency for All finds that there's tremendous potential to upgrade these properties with a slew of measures such as better insulation and lighting. In fact, the Public Utility Commission and the companies it regulates could cut electricity usage in those households by 25 percent, reduce gas usage by 13 percent, with huge returns on those investments. Specifically, returns to Pennsylvanians would $3.30 for every dollar invested in improving these properties! The returns include reduced bill arrearages, improvements in health, increased resident comfort and higher property values.

Every one of Pennsylvania's utility companies can tap substantial savings, as the graph below shows. Given the return-on-investment, it's a no-brainer. It just takes leadership and commitment from state and utility officials.

And Energy Efficiency for All is in turn committed to working with the Keystone State to get the job done. We also published a new Program Design Guide that describes best practices from across the country, tried-and-true means of tapping this huge potential. It's chock-full of great ideas for state officials and the utilities they regulate. Some that are worth considering in Pennsylvania include:
  • Establishing the goal of capturing all cost-effective efficiency in multifamily affordable housing;
  • assuring that cost-effectiveness tests work for multifamily affordable housing by accounting for non-energy benefits and applying cost-effectiveness tests to the entire portfolio of programs;
  • developing programs specifically targeted to multifamily affordable housing buildings; and
  • structuring incentives for whole-building savings.

The simple truth is that Pennsylvania can save a lot of energy in multifamily affordable housing, benefiting us all by improving the housing market, boosting quality of life and reducing pollution across the state.