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The Second Time Around

Congressís stamp of approval for the sustainable retrofit of buildings bears good tidings for green-collar jobs.


By David Sokol

In his July 11 weekly radio address, President Obama observed that the $787-billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was already energizing the green economy—citing the 3,000 people who will build a California solar plant and the 2,600 Michigan jobs spawned by investment in wind turbines.

Push for a Green Economy
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In addition to opening new taps of renewable energy, the recovery act is supporting green retrofits.
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In addition to opening new taps of renewable energy, the Recovery Act is supporting green retrofits. Here, too, some spending has been immediate. The $4.5 billion intended for the General Services Administration to convert facilities to high-performance green buildings was allocated entirely to shovel-ready projects, for example.

Further down the road, funds dedicated to residential weatherization projects should save a family $344 per year on average, according to Jason Hartke, U.S. Green Building Council’s director of advocacy and public policy. “For a long time we’ve seen a focus on greening new construction,” he says. “Now we’re seeing greening existing building stock. There is a lot of bang for your buck.”

The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES, or the Waxman-Markey bill) is taking an even longer view, looking beyond the Recovery Act’s two-year lifespan and potentially concretizing the push toward a green economy. Multiple components of ACES, which the House of Representatives passed in late June, authorize funds from cap-and-trade allowances for job training and green business grants. According to a National Wildlife Fund report that predated House passage of ACES, the program could spur 250,000 new jobs overall by 2020.

ACES also highlights this new emphasis on old buildings. Section 202, known as the Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance, or REEP, supports large-scale retrofitting of residential as well as commercial and institutional buildings through incentives that include interest rate subsidies and capital for revolving loan funds. Hartke says, “It will translate to billions of dollars for energy efficiency in buildings.”

Jason Walsh, national policy director of Green for All, agrees that REEP could be a boon for the building-retrofit private market. “Most of the job creation is going to be within existing building trades occupations,” he posits. “Think labor metalworkers, electricians, pipe fitters. Most of these jobs do not require a four-year college degree. And because of that they are more accessible to low-income folks, with the proper training and support.” Moreover, Section 202 stands to benefit large energy-service companies like Johnson Controls and Honeywell, as well as more local entrepreneurs who specialize in smaller buildings and residences.

ACES is not a done deal. As of press time the bill had not gone to the Senate, and the slim margin it won in the House suggests a tough fight ahead. Yet most Senators’ disagreement with ACES concerns the calculus of cap-and-trade, not REEP: Just as REEP cuts across demographics and geography, it appeals to myriad constituencies. So even if ACES doesn’t get signed into law, some version of REEP may be introduced separately. Indeed, observers note that community colleges’ green-economy programs already are expanding as a result of the federal stimulus and whatever more permanent incarnation follows it.


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This article appeared in the September 2009 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

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