Photo: Paul Morse, Clinton Global Initiative via Flickr
Retrofitting old buildings to make them more energy efficient is often described as the least sexy item on greens' to-do list. True, insulating federal buildings and installing new windows in households may seem less awe-inspiring than the prospect of seeing miles of solar arrays line the desert, or massive, futuristic-looking wind turbines dot the landscape. But picking the low-hanging fruit of efficiency retrofits should be inspiring awe in another regard entirely.
Creating jobs through energy efficiency retrofits should be a "no-brainer," President Clinton says. "This is one thing where you can finance 1 million jobs in America on a 'just say yes' system."
I sat down with the former president for a roundtable discussion last week, and the first topic was energy efficiency retrofits. Clinton went to great lengths to explain how efficiency upgrades should become a key way to create jobs across the nation.
"Usually when things sound too good to be true, they are," he said. "They aren't here. This is one thing where you can finance 1 million jobs in America on a 'just say yes' system. And if you live in New York, you're about to see it with homes."
He was referring to Governor Andrew Cuomo's recently passed on-bill accounting and energy efficiency initiatives that will make it easier for home and building owners to finance retrofits – creating construction and repair jobs in the process.
"It's a no-brainer," Bill Clinton said. "In all this building retrofit work, if you let the building owner pay the loan off from utility savings, they've already got a guarantee from the contractor."
Clinton then laid out what such a system would look like, beginning with an anecdote from one of the last places we'd expect to see innovations in energy efficiency:
"Nebraska is the only place you can go where every single solitary soul, god forbid, gets its electricity from the government. In Nebraska all power is public power...so there's a guy there who put together a company. And they go to your house, it's one day, in and out. They're out in 8 hours. They average 20-22% savings -- they tell you in advance, they do the test -- they tell you how much your going to save. And they have on-bill accounting. That is, the municipal utility will send you a bill along with your electric bill every month and the bill will be exactly how much your electric bill went down."
So customers don't actually have to put up any money at all. They simply pay off the cost of the service over a period time with the saved energy costs. And of course, after it's paid off, the customer then enjoys reduced energy costs. There is no truer example of a win-win-win. A company gets business, and creates or sustains jobs. The customer saves money in energy costs. And greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution is slashed.
"You could do every school, every state, county and local building, every federal building – because no one has to come up with any new money," Clinton said.
"You just keep paying the utility bill you were going to pay anyway, and instead of paying it more for the same juice, you're paying it to put people to work. To reduce your utility bills, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase employment."
Once again: Win, win, win.