Energy Efficiency in the Build Back Better Act and why it is important for Appalachia
By Patricia DeMarco, Ph.D. with editing review by the Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance
The Build Back Better Act has passed through the House and is on its way to the Senate. This legislation includes major investments in energy efficiency, which is critically important for the whole country, but especially in the Appalachian region. In West Virginia, per person residential electricity consumption is 40% higher than the national average. Inefficient homes create a huge burden on small businesses, local governments, and working families. Federal investments are essential because the families that would benefit the most from energy efficiency have the least access to these cost-saving and energy-saving measures. Investing in energy efficiency creates jobs, saves electricity, and keeps families warmer, safer and healthier. In addition, energy efficiency measures are the easiest way to lower Appalachia’s carbon footprint – and after all, the cheapest and cleanest energy is always the energy we don’t use at all.
The current Build Back Better Act that passed the House of Representatives includes $3.5 billion in new funds for weatherizing homes of low-income households. The Build Back Better budget reconciliation bill still pending in Congress includes (among other programs) several specific measures related to energy efficiency in housing:
- $5.89 billion in rebates for homeowners who make whole-home efficiency upgrades, plus $360 million for training contractors, with at least 25% for homes of low- and moderate-income households
- $6.25 billion in rebates for homeowners and multifamily building owners to electrify—such as with heat pumps—with $3.8 billion of this funding dedicated for low- and moderate-income households and tribal communities
- $2 billion (with up to $4 billion in lending authority) for improving the energy and water efficiency—and climate resilience—of multifamily affordable housing
- Updated and expanded tax incentives for efficient new and upgraded homes and commercial buildings—including much-improved incentives for constructing new homes that are zero energy ready and for deep energy retrofits of commercial buildings
- $300 million to support the current model building codes and codes for zero-energy buildings
- Broader funds that could be used for efficiency, including $29 billion in greenhouse gas reduction funds for state and local governments and nonprofits, about $12 billion for rural electric co-ops and other rural grants and loans, $8 billion for energy communities and environment and climate justice block grants, $3.6 billion for loan guarantees, and more than $90 billion for public and assisted housing.
In West Virginia, 58% of housing was built before 1978, the year lead paint was banned. Older housing stock can not only generate huge individual and health costs from allergy, mold and lead exposure, but are more likely to create high energy burdens for occupants. Weatherization measures can reduce energy use by 25–35% (DOE 2014, 2017; DOE 2011.)
The Energy Efficiency field includes manufacturing, diagnostics, engineering modifications, retrofitting, adapting and installing energy efficiency improvements to commercial and residential buildings. This sector employs more than three million workers nationally. Clean energy jobs go beyond just renewables, and includeconstruction trades such as Roofers, Roofer- Helpers, Pipe-layers, Plumbers, Pipefitters, Steamfitters, Insulation Installers, HVAC Mechanics, and HVAC Installers. The opportunities in energy efficiency grow as communities and businesses invest in infrastructure improvements and modernization. Because these jobs are tied to local initiatives, they are an excellent bridge to a more resilient economy. Energy efficiency jobs are generally outsourcing-proof. You can’t move a building that needs an envelope upgrade or a new appliance installed to a different location, which helps guarantee that those jobs stay community-based.
Green jobs pay well. Wages in the clean energy economy are above the national average of $23.86 per hour. For Clean Energy Production (renewables) wages average $28.41 per hour; for Energy efficiency, $25.90 per hour; and for Environmental Management, wages average $27.45 per hour. In addition, 65% to 100% of the 41 energy occupations examined across all major energy technology sectors— including solar photovoltaic installers, carpenters, wellhead pumpers, electricians, sales representatives, and automotive service technicians—nearly all report above-average provision of healthcare benefits.
Energy Efficiency Jobs:
The growth pattern for energy efficiency jobs has been slightly depressed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and its impact on the construction industry. However, national and regional trends show that jobs in the clean energy sector outnumber fossil fuels jobs nearly three to one (3.26M clean Energy Jobs to 1.17M Fossil Fuel Jobs) and clean energy employers said they anticipate six percent job growth for 2019. Clean energy comprises a significant part of the energy sector in every state in PA, KY, OH and WV. Nationwide, the energy efficiency sector declined in 2019 and 2020 due to slow-downs in the construction and renovation industry due to COVID-19, but this sector is expected to grow by 10.1% in the coming year.
Pennsylvania had 94,000 workers in the clean energy sector statewide before the pandemic. A regional and national leader in clean energy jobs, Pennsylvania ranked 11th for total clean energy jobs among all 50 states and the District of Columbia for the third year in a row.
The 2008 passage of Ohio’s landmark clean energy standards (S.B. 221) marked a turning point in Ohio’s economy. In the wake of standards to cut energy waste by 22 percent and shift at least 12 percent of the state’s electricity to solar, wind and other clean energy sources, Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors boomed. The clean energy sector grew 10% at the end of 2019, with 73,291 Ohioans having good-paying jobs in Energy Efficiency, 71% of the total in the clean energy sector. The largest number of these employees were in the construction sector with work in advanced materials and insulation firms, followed by traditional HVAC.
Kentucky has an average concentration of energy employment, with 38,916 Energy workers statewide. The Energy sector in Kentucky is 2.6 percent of total state employment (compared to 2.6 percent of national employment). The 21,910 Energy Efficiency jobs in Kentucky represent 1.0 percent of all U.S. Energy Efficiency jobs, losing 4,311 jobs (-16.4 percent) since last year. The largest number of these employees work in high efficiency HVAC and renewable heating and cooling firms, followed by traditional HVAC with most of the employment in construction and manufacturing sectors. Kentucky expects 4.8% increase in energy efficiency sector jobs in the coming year.
The Energy sector in West Virginia is 9.5 percent of total state employment. West Virginia has an additional 6,309 jobs in Energy Efficiency (0.3 percent of all U.S. Energy Efficiency jobs), compared to 16,070 jobs in Mining and Extraction. Energy Efficiency jobs lost 835 jobs (-11.7 percent) due to COVID-19 restrictions. Note that the profile for West Virginia has a significant contribution from coal electricity generation, reflecting the mining and production aspects of the coal industry in this state.
Energy efficiency can significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from buildings in the residential and commercial sectors. Fossil-fuel combustion attributed to residential and commercial buildings accounts for roughly 29 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Improvements in energy efficiency have led to emissions reductions in the residential and commercial sectors of 17.3 and 11.4 percent, respectively, since a 2005 peak. Improving efficiency is a critical step in climate action because it immediately reduces emissions across a wide sector of the economy. Improvements increase the value of buildings and improve the comfort, economy and quality of life for the building occupants or owners. Programs that provide information, technical assistance and funding or tax incentives for energy efficiency improvements can have a significant effect on the level of implementation.
This is why we must #InvestInAppalachia!