COVID-19 Looms but BPA Continues the Fight
by Joe Cullen, Director of Policy & State Outreach
 

BPA continues to monitor state responses to COVID-19 and related changes and developments in policy. We continue to actively engage on several state policy topics of critical importance to our members:

  • Health and Safety Protocols for contractors and customers
  • New Post-COVID field practices that are likely here to stay
  • State budget pressures and their potential impacts on future energy efficiency funding
  • New state initiatives that are responding to COVID impacts.

Health and Safety Protocols

BPA continues to collect and analyze the consensus health and safety guidance that states are providing on worker protections and training that can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. We encourage you to train and educate your team to protect yourself and customers as work in homes proceeds in most jurisdictions. Best practices on training and guidance documents are available at https://www.building-performance.org/backtowork. BPA thanks the many contractors and industry allies that have contributed to these COVID response materials. 

Virtual Pre-Assessments

Many states are adopting more and more remote work options for contractors and businesses. While BPA contractors haven’t figured out how to get customers to do their own blower door tests, BPA contractors are finding more and more innovative ways to get work done remotely. And these innovations may lead to new less-intrusive practices that last beyond the pandemic.

One example of these remote options are Virtual Pre-Assessments that many contractors and utility managed programs are using to streamline the home energy audit process. These Pre-Assessments are being adopted in a growing number of states and can provide invaluable information and data before contractors arrive on site. They have also proven effective for scheduling, streamlining, and for eventually safely conducting a full, on-site home energy audit.  

BPA believes that Virtual Pre-Assessments are not a substitute for on-site home energy audits. There are many challenges to providing Virtual Pre-Assessments in rural and low-income communities where internet access and broadband services may be unavailable. Despite these challenges, Virtual Pre-Assessments are becoming a more valuable and reliable tool for contractors to conduct work remotely during COVID – so many expect this new, virtual approach to getting started on home energy audits is here to stay.

Pressure on State Budgets Builds

BPA has reported previously on its successful efforts to oppose funding raids on energy efficiency programs in New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. BPA will continue to monitor state budget discussions as states address increased demands for services and lower tax revenues because of COVID. One recent note from the Pew Foundation’s Stateline series highlights this general trend: “The COVID-19 outbreak doomed a 10-year stretch of growth in state tax collections. A final, pre-pandemic ranking shows that tax revenue in all but six states had fully recovered from the Great Recession by the end of 2019—by double-digit gains in half of the states but just barely in a few, after adjusting for inflation. Now states have entered a new recession with another tax revenue roller coaster ride ahead.”

You can take a look at how your state and its most recent budget revenues and projections are doing at Fiscal 50: State Trends and Analysis.

State Responses on COVID Impacts, Funding, and Vulnerable Communities

Several states are ramping up support for energy efficiency programs and rebates in response to the COVID crisis. Utility and state programs in Colorado, Connecticut, Michigan, Illinois, and New York have increased rebates and/or funding for energy efficiency programs - at least for the remainder of 2020. Some of these funding increases have been designed to allow state programs to “catch up” with consumers and increase demand for services in light of previous COVID related slowdowns or shutdowns in programs earlier this year.

In addition to these temporary COVID responses and funding increases – several states are beginning to re-examine longer-term questions like how energy efficiency programs can better serve low income and minority communities. One example is the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (“DEEP”) which recently announced a formal “Equitable Energy Efficiency proceeding” which will undertake to “define equity in the context of the energy efficiency and load management programs within DEEP’s purview and expand the inclusion and participation of individuals in underserved communities, such as minorities, customers with limited incomes, veterans, and those who rent their homes.”  

The goal of this formal proceeding will be to identify barriers to equitable participation and the development of “metrics for tracking progress in addressing those barriers and measuring program outcomes and impacts from an equity perspective.” More information on the DEEP Equitable Energy Efficiency proceeding is available at Notice of Request for Comment.

BPA will continue to monitor these and other state policy topics as they develop further. If there are new developments in your state, let us know – we get many of our best tips and ideas about new and innovative policy developments from our members working in the field.

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