Good News for Green Jobs: California Utilities to Ratchet Up Energy Efficiency

Posted by Kristina Johnson

If you live in the Golden State, you may soon be saving money on your energy bills and breathing cleaner air, thanks to a recent decision by the California Public Utilities Commission. 

In May, the commission supported aggressive energy efficiency goals that will create jobs, slash pollution from power plants, and help Californians save money. With this decision, utilities are directed to create a suite of new programs designed to help consumers save energy—from replacing their old appliances to upgrading entire buildings. These programs will better integrate existing utility energy efficiency programs so that customers can receive more comprehensive energy efficiency upgrades more efficiently, a win for everybody.

Perhaps most exciting: The commission recognized the important link between well-trained, workers and energy savings, endorsing the recommendation of the 2011 Workforce Education and Training Needs Assessment, which supports a good jobs, quality work agenda. When workers are trained well, the quality of their work is higher—and well-trained workers tend to earn better wages—a win-win.

In an effort to help utilities create better workforce standards, the Commission decision:

  • Directs utilities to adopt sector strategies for workforce development. Sector strategies are industry partnerships for training that have a dual-customer focus, emphasizing employers’ need for skilled workers and workers’ need for good jobs. They include a commitment from employers to help move workers up a career pathway as they gain more skills.
  • Encourages utilities to include the Energy Savings Assistance (ESA) Program, which offers services to California’s low-income customers, in their energy efficiency workforce development programs in an effort to ensure high quality installations of energy efficiency measures and begin to build a career pipeline for disadvantaged workers.
  • Requests utilities to collect data and report on the cost and benefits of stronger workforce standards as well as data on worker wages and the characteristics of jobs and contractors in the ESA program
  • Directs utilities to require contractor and worker safety training and certifications and other safety standards for a limited set of energy efficiency programs.

The decision also helps advance solutions to the financing puzzle that has been an obstacle for energy efficiency upgrades in the past. By focusing on On-Bill Finance programs, the decision:

  • Requires utilities to continue existing On-Bill Finance programs that they run and to work with other energy efficiency financing programs that have been set up in the state
  • Creates new On Bill Finance programs targeted at four different non-residential sectors
  • Creates a plan for an On Bill Finance multi-family pilot program
  • Designs a credit enhancement program for single-family residential buildings.
  • Designs a data collection system that helps unlock information about things like debt repayment, energy savings, credit scores, and bill payment history—streamlining the process and helping attract private investment.

Together, these steps will breathe new life into California’s energy efficiency efforts—bringing effective energy efficiency upgrades to more people, saving more energy, cutting more pollution, and putting more Californians to work in good, family-supporting jobs.

Green For All, together with a coalition of partners including the Ella Baker Center, Greenlining Institute, UC Berkeley Labor Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Brightline Defense Project advocated for greater attention to workforce standards within the utilities’ programs and we celebrate the commission’s recognition of the connection between high quality energy efficiency services and a skilled workforce.

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