A new guide by Green For All and the Center on Wisconsin Strategy concludes that current weatherization and retrofitting programs are inefficiently structured to achieve the greenhouse gas reductions needed to slow the progress of global warming and maximize the benefits of financial savings and job creation. The study recommends that current retrofit program models that focus on individual buildings need to be overhauled and implemented at a “city-scale.”
According to the report, most existing retrofit programs are inefficient because they are available only to income-eligible individuals or those with sufficient up-front capital to pay for the work. Furthermore, most existing programs don’t aggregate individual building projects to take advantage of economies of scale, and deal with either residential or commercial buildings, but not both. As a result, many retrofitting programs create only low-wage, short-term jobs for workers rather than providing pathways into sustainable careers in construction and green building.
The study finds that shifting from a building-by-building focus to one that seeks to achieve city- or region-wide improvements and includes both residential and commercial buildings can provide the scope needed to achieve economies of scale. The report also proposes capturing some of the savings from retrofits to make the program self-sustaining. The authors argue that with increased scale and a self-financing mechanism, cityscale programs can provide a better career path, particularly for workers with less than a four-year college degree who often find entry-level positions but little chance for advancement or further training in current programs. By generating ongoing work on a range of different projects, workers can gain extended experience and may be presented with a wider variety of potential jobs and responsibilities.
The report also discusses how the savings generated from retrofitting buildings that are owned and occupied by low income individuals and families has the potential to stimulate local economies. Currently, low income households spend 14% of their income on energy, compared with the 4% spent by other American households. These households are most likely to spend their savings locally.
The report states that buildings represent 39% of primary energy use and 38% of all CO2 emissions in the United States. Relatively low-cost measures such as air sealing, insulation, and lighting and appliance upgrades can be done in almost every building to reduce energy use and provide significant savings on utility bills. Effective energy-efficiency improvement programs, the authors find, represent one of the lowest-cost and most cost-effective opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“A Short Guide to Setting Up a City-Scale Retrofit Program” can be found at: http://www.greenforall.org/resources/a-shortguide-to-setting-up-a-city-scale-retrofit.