The nation’s leading wildlife conservation groups have banded together with a wide-ranging array of other non-profits to advocate for a green COVID-19 recovery in the US, and the results are, well, interesting! Front and center in the new coalition’s to-do list is energy efficiency in buildings, which is not a particularly sexy topic but is one that is ripe for exploitation simply because millions of under-performing structures sprawl across the nation’s landscape, sucking up energy resources and smothering ratepayers under a pile of bills.
Wildlife & Energy Efficiency In Buildings
The new COVID-19 recovery effort brings 39 groups together under the umbrella of the Coalition for Clean Energy and Healthy Communities. The aim is to steer more federal stimulus dollars into job creation, public health, and environmental protection while promoting equity and justice, with a focus on supporting frontline workers and families that are taking the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis.
That’s where the energy efficiency angle comes in, along with renewable energy, transportation, water, resiliency, and habitat restoration.
The wildlife groups are represented by Defenders of Wildlife, Wilderness Society, World Wildlife Fund, National Wildlife Federation, The Wilderness Society, and Sierra Club, among others.
The Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council are among the A-list climate and environment non-profits lending their firepower to the initiative.
So much for the usual suspects. Things get more interesting when you scroll around the roster and discover Black Millennials for Flint, National Medical Association, Hispanic Access Foundation, Mi Familia Vota, National Hispanic Medical Association, and Poder Latinex alongside Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, Evangelical Environmental Network, and Iowa Farmers Union among others.
For those of you keeping score at home, the Center for American Progress is also in the mix.
Energy Efficiency In Buildings & The COVID-19 Recovery
Imagine all of this energy coming together in the service of building efficiency and it gets even more interesting, that is if you’re interested in building efficiency.
The US Department of Energy certainly thinks it is interesting. Back in 2015, the agency took a look at the issue and noted that buildings account for 40% of all primary energy use in the US and its associated greenhouse gas emissions, too, putting energy consumption in buildings high on the priority list for resolving energy and environmental policy issues.
That’s the bad news. As for the good news, “opportunities for improved efficiency are enormous,” enthused the Energy Department. “By 2030, building energy use could be cut more than 20% using technologies known to be cost effective today and by more than 35% if research goals are met. Much higher savings are technically possible.”
The Energy Department also emphasized that building efficiency is a holistic concept that embraces critical elements in addition to simply lowering energy consumption.
“Building efficiency must be considered as improving the performance of a complex system designed to provide occupants with a comfortable, safe, and attractive living and work environment,” the agency explains. “This requires superior architecture and engineering designs, quality construction practices, and intelligent operation of the structures.”
That’s something to keep in mind when you look at the new Coalition’s approach to energy efficiency as part of a green COVID-19 recovery that provides public health benefits:
“Building efficiency, paired with strong housing protections and affordable housing policies, will lower utility bills for families, small businesses and communities, cut climate-warming and health damaging pollution, and help ensure that everyone has access to adequate heating and cooling to get through worsening extreme weather events, all while supporting a growing workforce of more than two million people.”
A Green Recovery & Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
If you’re wondering where the Coalition got those 2 million jobs, that’s a good question. The National Association of State Energy Officials and the Energy Futures Initiative thinktank ran the numbers and came up with almost 2.4 million jobs related to energy efficiency.
That includes more than 400,000 new jobs added over the past five years alone, indicating the potential for healthy future growth in the building efficiency sector as the economy recovers.
With that in mind, the coalition’s policy proposals include $7 billion in initial stimulus funding for the job-creating Weatherization Assistance Program and an additional $1-2 billion yearly after that, as well as $3-7 billion yearly for the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program.
One red flag is that weatherization and other energy efficiency improvements can raise the value of a property and price it beyond the reach of low and middle income households, which would be the opposite of the Coalition’s community benefit intentions.
To offset or reduce that impact, the Coalition proposes creating carve-outs for public housing in the Community Development Financial Institutions fund and the National Housing Trust Fund. It also proposes funding for a suite of other housing programs.
It’s Time For Another (Green) Recovery Act
If all this is beginning to sound familiar, you are probably thinking of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009. ARRA kicked off a full slate of green recovery programs and renewable energy initiatives that are still having an impact today.
To build on the initial ARRA investments, the Obama administration also launched the Better Buildings energy efficiency program early in 2011, under the Energy Department. That program has also been chugging along full steam.
The Better Buildings model is a public-private partner program that focuses on sharing best practices. The program released its 10-year progress report on June 9 and tooted its own horn with these highlights:
- 370+ Challenge partners have reported $5 billion in savings since the program began.
- 230+ Better Plants partners have reported $6.7 billion in savings over the past 10 years.
- Financial Allies have extended more than $23 billion ($4.2 billion in the past year) for efficiency projects across a range of sectors and communities.
- 400+ organizations have joined the Better Buildings Residential Network, completing more than 220,000 home energy upgrades to date.
If that sounds like a lot of job-creating activity, it is. Putting it another way, Better Buildings had 60 partners at its launch, and now it has almost 1,000.
And, there’s plenty more where that came from.
On June 9 the Energy Department also announced a suite of new programs to complement Better Buildings, and one of them is called the Workforce Accelerator. The Accelerator aims to push energy efficiency to the top of the list across the entire building industry, including architects and real estate professionals as well as builders and facility managers.
That starts with K-12 education, on through post-secondary work and on-the-job training. Through the Accelerator, the Energy Department expects to expand its partner base to include educators, training providers, industry practitioners, trade associations, utilities, and other government agencies.
Outside of all that, the building electrification movement could also dovetail with the Coalition’s activities. The main emphasis is on kicking natural gas out of the building market, by leveraging strategic electrification that improves energy efficiency.
Meanwhile, don’t forget to save the whales.
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Photo: Better Buildings Initiative via US Department of Energy.