By Samantha Caputo | Tue, August 11, 20
COVID-19 is an unprecedented global pandemic that has impacted our lives in every imaginable way. Even as we adjust, adapt, and begin to reimagine what our future looks like, there is still a lot that is unknown. The energy efficiency and clean energy industry has been quick to respond to the pandemic with moratoriums on utility shutoffs , suspending on-site energy efficiency work, and virtualizing as many processes as possible. Even with these quick adjustments, there is more to learn about the long-term impacts COVID-19 will have on our industry.
Various states throughout the region have opened dockets to examine the impacts on ratepayers, programs, and utility costs. Below is a snapshot of these dockets:
|Delaware||Docket 20-028||Utilities order to establish a regulatory asset account to capture and track COVID-19 related costs. Further requests for additional commission actions related to the pandemic are to be filed in this docket.|
|District of Columbia||Docket FC1164||Examine the impacts of COVID-19 on public utilities and District ratepayers. The order directs the General Counsel to convene a technical conference within 45 days after the state of emergency order is lifted.|
|Docket PC53||Elicit information from Maryland utilities and stakeholders on the impacts of COVID -19 on utilities and the services they provide. The commission will hold a virtual legislative-style hearing on August 27-28 for the purpose of reviewing utility responses to the commission’s questions and comments received from stakeholders|
|Docket 9639||Authorizes each utility to create a regulatory asset to record the incremental costs related to COVID-19 incurred beginning on March 16.|
|Massachusetts||Docket 20-58||Investigate potential policies and practices regarding customer assistance and ratemaking measures for utilities in response to COVID-19. The DPU also established a Customer Assistance and Ratemaking working group to assist in establishing appropriate policies and practices.|
|New York||Docket 20-01253/20-M-0266||Identify and address the impacts of COVID-19 on customers and utilities. As part of this proceeding, the PSC will also examine the change in electricity use, impacts on rate-setting, rate design, and utility financial strength|
|Docket 20-00857/20-M-0187||PSC opened this docket in response to a joint petition for immediate rate relief for electric and gas customers in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The petition recommends that surcharges and collections devoted towards funding programs likely to be delayed as a result of the pandemic be paused temporarily or reduced significantly. This includes energy efficiency programs, utility heat pump programs, and new power generation and energy storage projects. Many organizations have submitted comment letters against pausing the collection of system benefits charges that are used for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.|
There has also been a dedicated effort to continue existing programs, including establishing health and safety trainings as contractors begin working onsite again and increasing incentives for program participants to encourage engagement and enable 2020 targets to be met. Massachusetts and Connecticut increased incentive levels to 100 percent. Many utilities are providing energy efficiency tips, promoting easy-to-install efficiency measures (smart thermostats, efficient lightbulbs, smart power strips, etc.), and providing virtual audit solutions.
In New York, NYSERDA has announced various program changes, including project extensions for new construction programs, including waiving requirements around on-site visits and signed document to enable payments. The multifamily program is loosening incentive requirements and increasing incentive amounts. Residential financing now has more generous financing terms to encourage participation in weatherization programs – zero percent for up to 12 months on five, 10, or 15 year term loans. NYSERDA is also offering reimbursement increases for workforce development, many changes to internships, including longer timeframes, more flexible hours, removing caps on number allowed, and increased flexibility of wage reimbursement and eligibility.
Connecticut is using the Contractor Technical Advisory Committee (CTAC) as the venue to interface with contractors and lend support and resources over the course of COVID-19 impacts. This is where CT DEEP released health and safety protocols developed with stakeholder input for returning to work for programs in the C&LM Plan. The guidelines detail the process for performing interior and exterior energy-efficiency evaluations and related services in 1-4 family residential, multifamily residential, and commercial & industrial buildings. There are mandatory health and safety trainings for energy auditors, installation contractors, inspectors, and on-site supervisors.
The New Hampshire utilities provided a notification to the PUC regarding lifting temporary suspensions for on-site work and incentive changes for energy efficiency programs. The notification provides a series of trainings that must be completed in order for suspensions to be lifted. The trainings focus on residential and C&I measures that can be completed with and without contact with customers. Various incentive caps were raised for programs to encourage participation and support contractors as they re-enter the market. Residential incentive changes include a per-home cap increase from $8,000 to $20,000 under the Home Energy Assistance program and an increased incentive for insulation and health & safety from 50 percent to 90 percent with a per-home cap at $8,000 under Home Performance with ENERGY STAR. On the C&I and municipal side, there are both prescriptive and custom incentives. This approach will remain and the utilities anticipate an increase in incentive levels by about 25 percent.
Vermont recently signed legislation into public law, An act relating to COVID-19 funding and assistance for broadband connectivity, housing, and economic relief, (H966). This bill appropriates $8 million to the Department of Public Service for the purpose of minimizing financial hardship and mitigating utility rate increases as a result of disconnection moratoriums. Additionally, it appropriates state Coronavirus Relief Funds ($213.2 million) to various broadband internet access, information technology, utility arrearages, housing, and other initiatives in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, and provides direct and grant-based economic support to businesses that have suffered harm due to COVID-19.
Efficiency Vermont is launching a program in response to this legislation called the School Indoor Air Quality Grant Program to help improve heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in Vermont’s K-12 public and approved independent schools. In the first few weeks of this program, over 100 different school districts and unions from across half of the state expressed interest. With such a deep level of interest, Vermont will likely tap into the Massachusetts and New York contractor market to meet demand. The Collaborative for High Performing Schools has also put out a brief on re-opening schools and the importance of ventilation to protect the health of students and teachers.
There is a lot of work being done throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Bringing this information together in one place is one way NEEP is working to share information across the region in response to COVID-19. For more information on COVID-19, visit NEEP's COVID-19 Resource Page.