Green jobs program to retrofit homes in Charleston

Charleston Regional Business Journal
Andy Owens
May 27, 2010

Millions of dollars could come to Charleston over the next three years under a pilot program that gives the city up to $1 million upfront to make homes and businesses more energy efficient.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and representatives of local, state and national organizations including the U.S. Department of Energy, S.C. Energy Office, Coastal Conservation League, Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, Trident Technical College and The Sustainability Institute announced the joint effort Tuesday in Charleston City Council Chambers.

Charleston is one of several cities across the country using $400 million in federal stimulus money to increase energy efficiency and green jobs in 25 different projects. Communities in eight Southeastern states are sharing in $20 million administered by the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance for the program dubbed Retrofit Ramp-Up.

Charleston will get up to $500,000 to design the program and another $500,000 for the weatherization work to be done. If the program goes well, the city could be in line for millions of dollars more, said Ben Taube, executive director of the alliance.

“It’s really about the second or third year of the program,” Taube said of the potential lasting impact of the program.

Gil Sperling, senior adviser at the Department of Energy, said a project such as Retrofit Ramp-Up creates jobs, helps reduce environmental impact and can save on the $130 billion a year that Americans spend on energy costs.

“As much as 50% of that energy is wasted,” Sperling said. “We have the technology today that pays for itself.”

Riley said the U.S. Conference of Mayors made energy conservation a top priority a number of years ago and was able to propose a program when The White House started looking for shovel-ready projects to stimulate the economy in 2008.

“Fortunately, we had that vehicle in place when President Obama and his team were working on the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act,” Riley said.

The first phase of the program will be to design it; the second phase will be to implement it. The Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance said the program is a pay-for-performance model, which means future funding will be based on cities’ performance. The grant is based on the provision of affordable, accessible financing programs to a combination of small and large residential, commercial and public buildings.

Bryan Cordell, executive director of the Sustainability Institute, said, “It’s a good opportunity to both weatherize homes in our community and give people jobs.”

Contractors could see work from the project by the end of the year, Sperling said. He said that getting financing in place for homeowners will take some work and mentioned rebates and tax credits. He said that if a homeowner had money to spend, the funds likely wouldn’t go toward efficiency improvements.

“They’re likely to spend it on granite countertops than energy-efficient systems,” Sperling said.

Last year, the Department of Energy did 150,000 retrofits, and few were privately financed. He said Americans need to retrofit and weatherize 10 million homes a year to make an impact.

“The only way to do that is the private sector. The private sector is eager,” he said. “To do that, the markets have to function properly.”

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