Green Jobs for the County
Think globally, act locally – and rapidly.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Monterey County recently celebrated the 39th anniversary of Earth Day with a Sustainable Cities Symposium. It was a chance to look back at the great progress the U.S. has made since 1970.
In the past four decades, we have reduced the most lethal types of air pollution by 60 percent, avoiding more than 200,000 deaths and millions more cases of severe respiratory problems every year, while still growing our economy 20 percent. As impressive as that success is, it should give us hope for what we can accomplish next.
The environmental, energy and economic challenge of our day is greenhouse gas pollution, which has doubled since the first Earth Day, risking catastrophic climate change unless we change the way we make and use energy. Fortunately, President Obama is off to a good start; the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) provided welcome tax breaks to help fund renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that will create much-needed green jobs, while also reducing greenhouse gas pollution.
A REVOLVING CLEAN ENERGY FUND WOULD CREATE MORE WORK FOR SOLAR AND WIND COMPANIES.
Although more should be done at the federal level, my focus is on what can be done locally to pursue the promise of green jobs, especially in Monterey County, where the need is so great. We have double-digit unemployment – as much as 25 percent in some areas but the opportunities are also great.
One opportunity is for the county to develop a $100 million revolving clean energy fund, modeled after the successful Berkeley FIRST program. Participation would be completely voluntary; property owners who choose to take part would receive up-front financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects and would repay the loan through a line-item on their property tax bill. The program would not cost the county anything. The financing would be provided through the bond market and property owners would pay off the loan, along with administrative fees.
Such a program would dovetail with actions at the federal and state level. It would secure more federal Recovery Act money through the energy efficiency and renewable energy tax credit programs. The Recovery Act programs sunset after a few years, but a Monterey County revolving fund could last in perpetuity.
A revolving clean energy fund would create more work orders for local solar and wind companies, and green jobs to fulfill them. It would also create business and jobs in retrofitting, as people upgrade their houses and offices to be more energy efficient. Electricians would have green jobs when hired to upgrade lighting systems. Contractors would have green jobs updating heating systems. Teenagers in need of summer employment would have green jobs, too, when homeowners hire them to insulate attics.
These residential and commercial upgrades in particular have a lot of bang for the buck. The jobs can’t be sent overseas, they leverage the existing skill sets of our workforce, and they save consumers a lot of money by lowering gas and electricity bills. While better lighting and insulation may not be very exciting technologies, they work great.
But if energy efficiency yields a trifecta of more prosperity, lower energy bills and reduced carbon footprints, it’s fair to ask: Why do we need a government program to make it happen?
The answer lies in what economists call “market failures.” The market for energy efficiency fails because the up-front price tag for an energy efficiency project is right here, while the savings accrue over time and are hard for most consumers to estimate. The market also fails when the person or company deciding whether to invest in efficiency is not the one who will benefit from the savings – as when a house is sold before an investment pays for itself or in a typical landlord-tenant relationship. These create lost opportunities that cost Americans billions of dollars every year.
A revolving clean energy fund could eliminate the up-front price tag for energy efficiency projects and solve this market failure.
This is no pipe dream – Monterey County could get this program up and running by the end of this year. The citizens and voters just need to tell our elected officials that we want it. Individual leaders have already heard the call. Rep. Sam Farr is a supporter. Supervisor Jane Parker is leading the effort at the county level. Monterey Mayor Chuck Della Sala, Carmel Mayor Sue McCloud, Pacific Grove Mayor Dan Cort, Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue and Marina Mayor Bruce Delgado have voiced their support.