Building efficiency retrofits serve the triple benefits of mitigating global warming emissions, reducing energy bills, and creating good, local jobs. Residential buildings alone account for 21percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and substantial efficiency savings are obtainable through easy and proven techniques. Yet if energy-efficiency retrofits offer such obvious environmental, economic, and employment benefits, why have they been so slow to materialize? The answer lies in a host of market failures, and developing viable, scalable solutions has proven challenging—until now.
“Green Jobs/Green Homes New York” outlines a policy roadmap for New York State to achieve mass-scale energy-efficiency improvements—or retrofits—of 1 million housing units over the next five years. “We know from the past 30 years of weatherization that with a relatively small investment in changing an existing structure you can save 30 to 40 percent in home energy,” said Gelman. “In New York, that will amount to about $1 billion per year if 1 million homes are weatherized.”
The policies outlined in this report can help stimulate the economy and lay the foundation for long term growth, but not without leadership from government, as well as engagement from local community groups and other stakeholders. “Free markets are not going to fix these problems without strong policy and real leadership,” said Hendricks.
Encouragingly, clean-energy policies were part of the economic stimulus package passed earlier this year. President Barack Obama outlined a plan last March to invest $59 billion from the stimulus in direct spending and tax incentives to promote clean energy and energy efficiency. Over the next two years, this federal investment will pour into state energy-efficiency programs and expand their capacity. “Those humble, hard-working energy-efficiency dollars work over time; they work double and triple time,” said Jones. These dollars can help cut home energy bills and poverty by creating jobs; reducing emissions, pollution, and asthma; and even making homes more valuable.
The Green Jobs/Green Homes NY program will make retrofits available to owners of any type of housing in New York State and at any level of income as long as owners are utility customers in good standing and live in targeted geographic areas. Retrofits can also be made available to renters of single-family homes who own the utility meter account and have sole physical control of the housing unit. The program plans to use an array of innovative financing, community outreach, and community partnership strategies to make it all happen. “New York has one of the largest weatherization programs in the country, retrofitting 25,000 to 26,000 homes per year. This report would increase the number of homes 12 times the current rate,” said Dyen.
The report estimates that the Green Jobs/Green Homes NY plan will directly create 60,000 job-years related to the expansion of retrofit work and another 60,000 job-years indirectly through additional economic activity. The program will employ 14,000 long-term, full-time skilled retrofit workers, providing an opportunity to reach out to groups that have been previously disenfranchised in the job market. “We need to consider not only how to make access to jobs for people who don’t have a lot of work experience or don’t come to it with a lot of skills, but also how to make good jobs,” said Donner. “We need to treat these as complimentary goals rather than contradictory.”
Organization on the community level will be crucial to educate local groups and homeowners about the importance of investing in retrofitting. Also, environmentalists and unions will jointly benefit from the report’s proposed policies. “If these groups can join together and replicate the New York model across the country,” said Chambers, “then ‘yes we can’ becomes more than a chant, it becomes a way of life.”