On the Right Track: Green Buildings, Clean Energy News Highlights Obama’s Energy Policy

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Leadership from the Obama Administration has set the federal government on the right track in terms of energy policy, engaging state and local government, private sector businesses and local public interest groups in efforts to boost energy efficiency and clean energy use. Two announcements this week drive the point home.

On June 26, the Obama administration announced that 36 additional states, local governments and school districts have joined the President’s “Better Buildings Challenge.” With nearly 300 million square feet of of building space in their care, joining the program not only helps insulate the owners of these buildings from high and volatile fossil fuel energy costs, it opens up the likelihood of putting thousands to work conducting energy audits and energy efficiency upgrades.

Joining the Better Buildings Challenge also lays the foundation for many years’ worth of work that will not only reduce energy consumption and wasted energy, but will reduce CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of environmental pollution.

Further supporting Better Buildings Challenge members by streamlining federal administration related to the program, the Treasury Dept. is providing new tax guidance that will make it easier for state and local governments to gain access to more than $2 billion in existing low-cost financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, according to the US DoE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) news release.

Fostering Clean Energy Innovation

The Obama Administration announced another noteworthy piece of clean energy/energy efficiency news this week. On June 27, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the DoE is awarding more than $102 million in grants to 104 small businesses across the country to help advance clean energy innovation. The clean energy innovation grants will span small businesses in 26 states, “helping to continue to develop promising technologies with a strong potential for commercialization and job creation.”

Small businesses play a big role in the US economy. They created 64% of total net new jobs– 14.5 million in absolute terms– in the US between 1993 and 2008. Moreover, nearly 40% of the US science and engineering workforce are employed in small businesses, the EERE notes.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, employing half of all workers in America and creating two out of every three new jobs in the U.S.,” Secretary Chu noted in a statement. “Bringing these innovative technologies to market is just the latest step in the Energy Department’s efforts to support the critical role that small businesses are playing in creating jobs for American workers and expanding our country’s clean energy economy.

“These businesses are helping to reduce our dependence on imported oil and protect our air and water, while ensuring that the United States leads in the global clean energy race.”

The clean energy innovation grants are to be funded through the DoE’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR).

This week’s 104 grant award winners are in the so-called “Phase II” stage of clean energy innovation, at a point where they are ready to “build on the conceptual work undertaken in Phase I and pursue next steps in bringing the technologies to market,” the EERE press release explains. Phase II grants can total as high as $1 million for work spanning more than two years. Phase I grants can total as high as $150,000.

This week’s Phase II awards span a variety of renewable and clean energy technology, ranging from large wind turbine towers and particle accelerators for medical applications to more energy-efficient data centers and advanced imaging and X-ray technologies. Details of the 104 Phase II award-winning projects are available on the DoE Office of Science website.

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