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5 Steps for States to Keep Advanced Energy Progress on Track

Covid Steps for States-730

The numbers are staggering: 33 million Americans have lost their jobs since the start of the COVID pandemic, including nearly 600,000 in the advanced energy industry. And by the end of June, that number could hit 850,000. That would be nearly a quarter of the 3.6 million advanced energy jobs that existed at the start of the year – a time when advanced energy was a $238 billion a year industry in the United States, with employment that was growing nearly twice as fast as U.S. employment overall. For those of us who work in the industry, we know the new reality all too well, as emails bounce back not with “out of office,” but rather “no longer works here” or “has been furloughed.” It’s heartbreaking. But there are things state policymakers – especially governors and public utility commissioners – can do to prevent advanced energy business from coming to a complete halt during the public health crisis, and keep the advanced energy industry in a position to aid the economic recovery that follows. Here we lay out five ways state policymakers could do just that.

1. Make Procedural Changes that Make it Easier to Do Business
  • Allow video hearings, workshops and cross-examinations 
  • Allow attestations instead of verifications/notarized documents 
  • Allow virtual professional licensing renewals and waive certain in-person requirements 
  • Allow virtual permitting processes (e.g., instead of public in-person permitting hearings) at the state, county and local level
  • Allow virtual implementation and inspections, where feasible, for measures using customer photos and/or video 
  • Allow e-filing where currently not available, and waive paper filing requirements 
  • Ensure procedures enable transparency and the ability of diverse stakeholders to participate in discourse, and in building the record that supports fact-based decision making 
  • Ease supply chain bottlenecks for advanced energy components by classifying these parts as “critical infrastructure” 
2. Lower Costs for Customers and Businesses and Help Them Manage Cash Flow
  • Provide access to long-term debt and low interest rates to ensure liquidity for advanced energy companies 
  • Leverage advanced metering infrastructure data to better target and engage customers in EE and bill payment assistance 
  • Give utilities more flexibility on how to spend their energy efficiency (EE) and demand response dollars so they can prioritize activities that are able to be done safely, or to increase incentive levels in the near term (e.g., redirect to home energy reports, behavioral efficiency, digital marketplaces)
  • Issue bonds to keep money flowing to incentive programs typically funded by tax revenue 
  • Expand demand response program pre-enrollment in anticipation of residential summer load (i.e., allow customers to learn about, validate eligibility, enroll in, receive rebates for demand response, and/or receive a pre-provisioned device that is program-ready upon installation by the homeowner) 
  • For existing demand response customers, consider resetting baseline demand data to reflect new consumption patterns so customers can continue to participate
  • Extend payment assurance around customer non-payment to community choice aggregators, energy service providers and other direct access programs that cannot seek cost recovery through the state’s commission 
  • Roll out more tools and options to enable customers to lower bills, such as: 
    • Opt-in time-of-use rates
    • Remote demand response programs
    • Remote energy audits
    • Demand charge ratchet relief for shuttered businesses or for companies retooling to respond to COVID that may experience new peaks
3. Put People Back to Work Safely:
  • Include advanced energy in the definition of critical infrastructure or essential services so that work that can be done safely can continue (e.g., new advanced metering infrastructure deployment; battery storage projects; electric vehicle supply equipment installation, operations and maintenance; certain EE activities and renewable energy project development) 
  • Take advantage of the fact that many schools, public buildings, and commercial and industrial buildings are now empty to perform/accelerate EE projects 
4. Stay on Track to Achieve Long-term Goals:
  • Do not waver from long-term renewable energy or EE goals. Instead, recognize that these sectors will help create jobs during the economic recovery 
  • Keep the interconnection queue and project permitting moving by ensuring sufficient staffing levels and use of technology to enable virtual processes
  • Create community resilience grants to support the development of local, distributed  energy resources (i.e. solar, storage, building electrification, energy efficiency, electric vehicle charging, grid-connected buildings, microgrids)
  • Offer interest free loans for families and businesses to invest in energy efficiency or renewable energy through residential programs and PACE commercial financing 
5. Keep the Lights On:
  • Support microgrids and other distributed energy technologies to ensure that critical facilities like telecommunications, supermarkets, and hospitals are capable of isolating from outages of the distribution grid.
  • Support microgrid development, demand response, and other distributed energy technologies to manage residential load in locations with transformers and/or substations that may not be equipped to handle higher-than-usual residential summer load 

For state-specific ideas, see this list from our Michigan state partner organization, Michigan EIBC, and these joint comments we filed together with the Michigan Public Service Commission.

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