The cheapest, cleanest, and easiest way to reduce pollution is to simply use less energy. Energy efficiency can (roughly) be defined as using less energy while still maintaining the same standard of living and lifestyle. And right now, energy efficiency is booming. Just a few years ago, appliances that were certified as highly efficient (the “Energy Star” certification) had that as a distinct selling point. Now, Energy Star certification is the norm for most appliances sold. LED lightbulbs are 92% more efficient than incandescent and plummeting in price. Nest’s “learning” thermostats are becoming increasingly common. Everywhere you look, energy efficiency is becoming more and more the norm.
Council attorneys have been working hard to ensure the energy sector and the law both promote energy efficiency. In particular, we’ve intervened in a number of legal cases involving PECO, Exelon, and PGW. Our attorneys have also been fighting against Pennsylvania’s refusal to update its building codes. These sectors dragging their feet won’t reverse the steady progression towards greater energy efficiency, but they will slow down progress at a time when we need to reduce pollution and waste.
For a number of years now, a deal has been in the works to make Exelon the largest energy provider in the United States. As part of the deal, Exelon is required to show that the merger would serve the public interest. The Council is part of a group that successfully pushed for energy efficiency programs to count as part of that public interest. Although the details are still being finalized, Exelon has agreed to spend $2,000,000 on energy efficiency programs in Delaware.
PECO/PPL Rate Increases
If you get your electricity from PECO or PPL, you pay a flat rate every bill for “fixed” costs (like power line maintenance). PECO and PPL recently sought to increase these fixed costs on peoples’ bills, and doing so requires approval from the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission. While this may seem innocent on its face, the truth is that such a move is part of an attempt to discourage energy efficiency.
Utility companies have seen their profits shrinking in the past years from decreased energy usage. To try and make up for it, they have attempted to shift costs from the parts of the bill where people pay based on their energy usage to the fixed costs section. The result, of course, would be that reducing energy use wouldn’t save as much money, making energy efficiency less attractive to bill payers.
Because the change required PUC approval, Council attorneys were able to intervene on behalf of our members in the PPL and PECO service territories. We laid out our case against the rate increases, and ultimately saw success. PPL had originally asked for a 40% increase but ended up with nothing, while PECO received a small increase (which reflected the fact that PECO’s fixed rates hadn’t increased in a decade).
As technology and building methods improve, building codes are updated to incorporate these changes. Every three years the International Code Council (ICC) publishes new building code recommendations which are used throughout the entire United States and some global markets. Pennsylvania’s “Review and Advisory Council” (RAC) reviews these recommendations and decides whether the state should officially adopt them. Until 2011, Pennsylvania automatically adopted the ICC’s updated codes unless the RAC voted to opt-out of specific parts. In 2011, Governor Corbett signed legislation to end Pennsylvania’s automatic adoption process and instead require the RAC to approve each individual code update.
In the years since, certain members of the RAC have obstructed the adoption of new codes. This is due, in part, to the fact that the RAC contains a large number of builders who want to save a buck by not having to build to higher standards. Late last year, the RAC voted to adopt almost none of the latest code updates for 2015.
In October 2015 the Council sued Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry to challenge the RAC’s decision. The Council’s lawsuit emphasizes two main points, the first of which is that the RAC’s decision to reject the 2015 updates was arbitrary. The RAC has subgroups review each proposed update and, despite the fact that these subgroups recommended that over 98% of the 2015 updates be adopted, the RAC voted to reject almost all of them with no explanation as to why. Second, the Council’s lawsuit argues that the law has been intentionally misread to make it as difficult as possible to update building codes. Since filing the lawsuit, Labor and Industry has rescinded the interpretation in question.
The refusal to update the building codes is putting Pennsylvanians in harm’s way right now. For example, the Safe Drinking Water Act requires that plumbing products contain, at most, 0.25% lead. The 2015 ICC codes contain the same requirement of 0.25% lead maximum. But Pennsylvania’s outdated building codes allow up to 8% lead in plumbing products, putting the health and safety of residents at risk. As the current crisis in Flint shows, this lead can make its way into our water with devastating effects.
Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW) is responsible for distributing natural gas to the city. PGW has a program to replace ageing pipes which often leak gas throughout the city, but it’s underfunded. While leaks from major gas pipelines are well known as a major source of methane pollution, the cumulative effect of thousands of small-scale leaks shouldn’t be ignored either. Our attorneys recently helped PGW ensure it could secure more funding to increase the pace at which its pipes are replaced.
For more information on any of these campaigns, or energy efficiency in general, please call Logan Welde at 215-567-4004 ext. 126, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.