Lime Energy has seen the detrimental effects that the coronavirus has had on the small businesses we serve. We have also felt those damaging effects in our own industry. As states, utilities, and other sponsors halt the majority of energy efficiency programs, the implementers of those programs face a harsh economic fallout. Several places have documented the struggles faced by the energy efficiency industry during the current pandemic. A recent article by David Iaconangelo at E&E News captures the dramatic cuts to energy efficiency jobs caused by COVID-19.
Speaking to insiders across the energy efficiency industry, including Lime’s own Adam Procell, Iaconangelo portrays the bleak situation facing many energy efficiency employers. Employers nationwide are experiencing mass layoffs and program suspensions as audits, installations, and inspections are placed on hold to protect public health. Both large and small employers have contracted their workforce to weather the stoppage of work. As Procell and others tell Iaconangelo, the recent wave of layoffs may have short-term and long-term effects on energy jobs in the U.S.
Iaconangelo does identify one potential source of relief for efficiency companies in this uncertain time: federal action. For example, the recently passed CARES Act will allow small employers to retain their workforce through loans that may be forgiven if employers preserve their payroll. But relief measures in the stimulus bill will not sustain the efficiency industry beyond the next few months. Key advocates are pushing for Congress to adopt policies that address “the economy after the pandemic is over,” according to one expert consulted for the article.
Energy efficiency groups have been working tirelessly to convince decision-makers in Congress about the benefits of including energy efficiency provisions in any subsequent stimulus bills. Proposed provisions include expanded energy efficiency tax credits, increased funding for federal efficiency programs, and a revival of the efficiency and conservation block grant program first passed during the last recession. Not only would these ideas help preserve many at-risk efficiency jobs, but they would also accelerate the rebound from our current economic downturn.
One key to federal approaches to energy efficiency jobs will be increasing investment in groups that need support the most. These groups will also play a significant role in turning the economy around – small businesses, low-income communities, homeowners, and operators of inefficient buildings. The inclusion of efficiency in future federal coronavirus policies presents a win-win. Not only will it create a short-term boost to employment, but it will generate lasting savings. These savings can then be reinvested in buildings and the economy to spur a much-needed economic turnaround.