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Gregg Mast: Legislature should pass ECO Act

Gregg Mast: Legislature should pass ECO Act

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The Energy Conservation & Optimization Act is a bipartisan opportunity to build on past successes. Minnesota’s existing energy efficiency program has put more than $6 billion back into Minnesotans’ pockets during the past 20 years.

While it may grab fewer headlines, the energy efficiency sector has been quietly powering the clean energy industry for years. Efficiency jobs -- like helping make new and existing buildings more efficient or installing heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment -- make up three quarters of the clean energy job sector.

It’s also been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, making up the lion's share of the 11,500 jobs lost across the industry in the state.

Lee Valencour, a CEEM member, and president of Plains Energy Services, illustrates the problems facing the energy efficiency industry today. Valencour was conducting commercial energy audits, until the pandemic upended his work.

He tells us many of his clients closed their purse strings once COVID-19 hit, and the revenue stream still hasn’t been turned back on. In fact, he says the only authorized expenses he’s getting are maintenance costs critical to operating a facility.

Valencour has had to inform his regular material vendors and contractors that, “I’ve got nothing.”

In fact, he says projects throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas have all been put on hold this summer. Valencour shares he currently has 172 KW of energy saving projects worth an estimated $300,000 in revenue to vendors and contractors that have been put on hold. These projects typically have a short three-year payback, but he says clients aren’t sure they’ll make it that long.

Valencour’s story demonstrates why Minnesota needs the ECO Act. Not only will passing this bill provide new energy-efficiency options to consumers throughout the state, it will jump-start the energy efficiency industry and get people back to work at a critical moment in time.

The ECO Act is supported by both political parties, unions, utilities and a broad swath of clean energy businesses. This is a no-brainer, and we urge legislators to act swiftly during the next special session in August.

Gregg Mast, Minneapolis

Gregg Mast is executive director of Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, a nonprofit representing the business voice of clean energy.

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