What COVID-19 means for energy efficiency in Oregon


a masked woman shopping in a grocery store

The impacts of COVID-19 on Oregon’s energy-efficiency industry could be felt long after the pandemic is under control.

That’s according to Energy Trust Executive Director Michael Colgrove, who was the featured speaker in a webinar this week hosted by the Association of Energy Services Professionals.

Colgrove described how the state’s stay-at-home order, phased reopening and continuing economic uncertainty have affected Energy Trust’s customers and network of trade ally contractors.

Among residential customers, those with the highest energy burdens have been the hardest hit, as have certain business sectors including hospitality, retail and restaurants.

With capital projects and investments on hold, the hit to Oregon’s clean energy workforce has been severe. Nearly 10,000 clean energy jobs were lost through May, about 16% of the state’s clean energy workforce, according to BW Research Partnership.

In a survey by Energy Trust, trade ally contractors said their top concerns were inability to bring in new projects, followed by construction and permitting delays and worker safety.

“Contractors see (Energy Trust’s cash) incentives to stimulate the energy-efficiency market as critical in sustaining their businesses and helping them recover,” said Colgrove.

Looking ahead, he predicted prolonged social distancing and an economic downtown would continue to challenge the industry. Residential customers may be less willing to invest in energy-efficiency upgrades, while businesses could see more layoffs and closures.

Still, he said, there may be opportunities to promote the benefits of clean energy amid other transitions.

Entertainment, hospitality, food service and tourism industries may need to make infrastructure changes to adjust to lower customer densities, for instance. Widespread adoption of remote working could affect historical utility loads and drive innovation.

And energy efficiency and renewable energy could provide much need savings for a variety of customers looking to enhance their financial outlook.

“This is the sort of future Energy Trust is planning for,” said Colgrove. “The benefits of efficiency investments have a role to play in helping people, businesses and communities recover. Energy efficiency is always a good investment, and now so more than ever.”