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Green Building News

A Big Plan for Energy Retrofits in New York

The Green Jobs/Green Homes initiative aims to scale up weatherization services in the state for owners of any type of housing at any income level

Image Credit: Center for Working Families

Energy efficiency programs supported by federal stimulus funds include eligibility requirements designed to ensure the programs address the needs of low-income households. That is a good thing, to be sure, since jobs will be created and the operating efficiency of many homes in underserved communities will be improved.

But policy advocates for some states, including New York, have been working on ways to build on the job-creating, efficiency-improving opportunities presented by the stimulus funds. In New York’s case, a plan co-developed by the Center for Working Families and the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C., think tank, is designed to attract private investment in an energy efficiency retrofit program that would be scaled up to serve homeowners of all incomes statewide for the next five years – well past the two-year limit set for federal stimulus funding.

CAP says the program, called Green Jobs/Green Homes NY, would make retrofits available to owners of any type of housing in the state and at any level of income “provided that owners are utility customers in good standing and live in targeted geographic areas. The program can also be made available to renters of single-family homes who own the utility meter account and have sole physical control of the housing unit.”

A special program infrastructure

The program would require establishment of a “residential retrofit investment fund” – a private investment vehicle that would help cover upfront costs for retrofits. Those fees would then be paid off over a 10-year period by participating homeowners, whose utility bills would include a line item that returns a portion of energy savings to investors. Once the investors are repaid, energy savings created by the retrofit would stay with the homeowner. Should the homeowner sell the property, the new owners would have to pay the utility-bill line item.

If Green Jobs/Green Homes NY is implemented correctly, CWF says, about 1 million homes statewide would receive retrofits over the five-year period, about 60,000 construction jobs would be created, and home energy consumption would be cut by 30% to 40%.

Administering this enterprise would be a bear of a task, of course, and so CAP and CWF recommend convening a “workforce planning panel” to help the state’s workforce development programs support green jobs, and to mine the resources of community groups and training programs. Utilities and the state’s regulatory body, the Public Service Commission, will also have to cooperate.

The program proposal has generated a fair amount of support, including that of State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Governor David Patterson also has expressed interest.

Beyond political support, though, the program, if implemented, will have to reckon with a key issue, one that has become of particular interest to weatherization officials in other parts of the country: the mechanism for encouraging homeowners and renters to participate.

CAP suggests developing regional networks that would partner with local businesses community groups to educate people about retrofit benefits, jobs training, and pre-enrollment programs. But as we’ve seen in Boulder, Colorado, success could hinge on taking things one step farther. Administrators of Boulder’s ClimateSmart retrofit program have considered going door-to-door to up the program’s participation rate. Prodding even homeowners with the best of intentions, they’ve found, can be the most challenging part of the process.

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