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Energy Efficiency, An Endangered Species?

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Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled in favor of the state of Connecticut.  The ruling allows the state to redirect funds originally intended for energy efficiency programs targeting low-to-medium income households. As I dug for more information on this ruling, I found that adequate funding for energy efficiency will not be the only challenge facing families and utilities this summer.  

Families are struggling, some are forced to move, while others are financially unable to do so.  Here’s how community is connected to utility.  Utilities have already been tasked with navigating the shift of demand from commercial to residential areas. Now, with so many working from home, people are starting to question whether the high costs, small living spaces, density and inability to practice social distancing in places like New York City, is really worth it.  In fact, a growing exodus from the city has been reported.  New Yorkers are moving upstate and out of state, to New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Florida.

In Connecticut alone, the United States Postal Service reports, nearly 10,000 New York residents requested change of addresses to Connecticut between March and early June this year, compared to about 1,200 requests filed during that time in 2019. This influx will certainly impact community resources, namely power.  In New England, some utilities have encouraged conservation, by asking that residents, for one evening only, to turn off air conditioners between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. and to limit use of other appliances during summer peak times.

As the temperatures outdoors increase and this pandemic continues, conservations should be paramount.  New York has endured unexpected events of interruption in the past.  When Hurricane Sandy knocked out electricity in half of Manhattan, the running gag was that the city’s trendiest new neighborhood had become SoPo, South of Power.  When a transformer exploded in Queens in December 2018 people were in awe of the eerie blue light that lingered over the city.   Last summer in Manhattan, a fire at an electricity generator left 72,000 people without power.  This year, utility company Con Ed, suggests all electrical items be fully turned off when not in use, people take showers instead of baths and to set your washing machine to cold to avoid heating so much water.  With residential consumption in New York City up by 7 percent, Con Edison president Tim Crawley, said,  'Safe, reliable power is essential for New Yorkers, particularly during the health crisis…’  

In the middle of it all, New England business groups are making a case to suspend energy efficiency surcharges.  Ted Kresse, a spokesman for National Grid commented, “While we recognize the pandemic is having a significant impact on many of our customers, removing these tools could have even greater long-term consequences for the economy and environment.”

So utilities are faced with a change in the type of demand, a shift in the times of demand and now, in some areas, an increase in customers and services.  However, the number of movers may slow now that New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have announced a quarantine on visitors from states with high coronavirus numbers. Gov. Cuomo said, “It’s just common sense and it’s the spirit of community.”  How’s your community faring?  Will there be funds available to implement energy efficiency audits and programs?  Should the importance of conservation and efficiency go up or down?  How will utility programs fare in the months to come or even after the pandemic? 

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