In an old sour cream warehouse on the North Side, welding sparks fly as workers fabricate metal pipes, ducts and other materials used to most efficiently move air through commercial buildings.
Huckestein Mechanical Services, once on the brink of financial collapse following the Great Recession, has been growing in recent years by focusing on a specific market: energy efficiency.
“I see this as a way to differentiate ourselves in the market,” said Wendy P. Staso, Huckestein's owner, president and CEO, who took control of the company in 2010. She changed the company’s focus to designing, fabricating, installing and maintaining high-efficiency heating and cooling systems for the region's aging commercial buildings.
Though it may seem like a niche, the 50-employee company has assembled heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems for 250 buildings including schools, hospitals, hotels — and the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland.
Huckestein’s Chateau headquarters played host on Wednesday to the public release of an annual report that showed clean energy jobs totaled 70,000 people in Pennsylvania in 2016, representing a 6 percent increase from the year before.
Allegheny County led the state with 8,100, though the Philadelphia metro area had more than the greater Pittsburgh region.
The report — released by E2, which advances a business case for supporting clean energy, and the Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance — is a yearly employment snapshot that clean energy advocates hope will encourage policymakers, businesses and others to lessen the energy industry’s dependence on fossil fuels. The report notes that, by its count, clean energy employs twice as many Pennsylvanians as the fossil fuel industry.
The numbers are based on an energy jobs census calculated by the U.S. Department of Energy and released earlier this year. When the federal report — the first of its kind — debuted last year, it showed energy efficiency employed nearly 2 million Americans.
Four out of five of those workers were employed in energy efficiency trades: building materials and insulation, LED lighting and advanced HVAC systems. Job counts are increasing among solar installers and wind farm operators as well.
The demand for green buildings has swelled in recent years. The Pittsburgh metro area has 362 projects totaling 33.8 million square feet of LEED-certified space, a prominent green building designation, according to the U.S. Green Building Council.
“You have owners and developers demanding higher performing, LEED-certified net-zero buildings,” said Aurora Sharrard, executive director of the Green Building Alliance in Pittsburgh. “And then you have designers, contractors, product manufacturers who are essentially the supply side. You need both sides to come together.”
At the same time, green advocates see policy hurdles that they've been pressing the state to remove for years, like a wrinkle in the state alternative energy standards that allows electric utilities to invest in projects constructed outside of Pennsylvania.
The Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance, which was founded in 2008 to advocate for those standards, is pressing for greater financing and education for energy efficiency projects, said Julian Boggs, policy director for the Philadelphia-based group.
A notoriously old building stock “is a huge opportunity” for businesses like Huckestein, Mr. Boggs said. “We think of energy efficiency as a resource. You can make an investment in energy efficiency.”
Daniel Moore: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2743 and Twitter @PGdanielmoore.