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Obama Launches $4-Billion Public-Private Green Building Retrofit Plan

By Tom Ichniowski

This article originally appeared on Engineering News-Record.

December 09, 2011
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President Obama and former President Bill Clinton have announced an $4-billion federal-private sector-local government program to upgrade a wide range of existing buildings to make them more energy efficient.

The plan expands an earlier green-building effort by the Clinton Global Initiative. But in a bow to political realities, the program doesn't involve any new federal spending or tax breaks.

In announcing the plan at a Washington, D.C., renovation project, Obama called energy-efficiency improvements to buildings “a trifecta.” He said it “is one of the fastest, easiest and cheapest ways for us to create jobs, save money and cut down on harmful pollution.”

He also said such steps such as cutting buildings' energy consumption could save companies as much as $40 billion in annual energy costs.

Clinton said each $1 billion in energy upgrades creates an average of 7,000 jobs, an equation that he says is "by far the greatest bang for the buck of any available investmen I know."

The federal government’s part of the plan aims to carry out at least $2 billion in “green” improvements to buildings over two years. It will use existing performance contracts, under which energy savings finance the up-front costs of the building upgrades.

On the nonfederal side, Obama said 60 companies, universities, labor unions, hospitals, cities and states will use $2 billion to finance 1.6 billion sq ft of commercial and other space by 2020.

The program, announced on Dec. 2, has as one of its building blocks a commitment made at a June meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative America. At that time, 14 organizations pledged to upgrade 300 million sq ft of building space and use $500 million in private financing.

The Obama administration has had a focus on energy-efficiency improvements to buildings dating back to the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. That statute included several billion dollars for green buildings projects at agencies such as the General Services Administration and Dept. of Defense.

in addition, last February, Obama proposed a “Better Buildings Initiative” that aimed to use federal grants, tax incentives and other tools to “green” commercial buildings. But many of the elements of that proposal required legislative changes, which the current Congress hasn’t adopted.

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