Reports this past month that California's jobless rate had reached its post-World War II zenith provide us with both a stark reality and a paramount question: What can we do immediately to put people back to work, in stable, good paying jobs? Although there is no panacea, there is a lost opportunity sitting idle that will help remedy this problem while simultaneously putting money back in the pockets of consumers and mitigating the effects of global warming. The answer lies within our existing buildings.
Existing buildings are the last frontier of wasted energy not being adequately addressed. In the residential sector there are currently over 13 million homes and apartments in California. Within that number over 9 million were built prior to the implementation of the first set of energy efficiency standards. This means that three-quarters of homes in the state have never had to comply with any energy efficiency requirements. By developing a comprehensive plan to retrofit our homes and offices we can put thousands of people back to work and boost local economies.
There is legislation here in California aimed at doing just this. Assembly Bill (AB) 758, sponsored by Global Green USA and authored by Assembly Member Nancy Skinner (D- Berkeley), recently passed both houses and would require the California Energy Commission (CEC) to develop and implement a comprehensive program to achieve greater energy savings in existing residential and commercial buildings. The CEC will have until March 2010 to create the plan meaning its possible that people could be put to work in as little as seven months from the time the bill is signed.
Buildings consume energy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, meaning they are always emitting greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and always running up utility bills. In fact, today in the United States, buildings use more electricity and account for a greater amount of greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector. Even if you were to lock up your house, leave town for a month and turn off every light in your home, you'd still have a bill at the end of the month.
Energy efficiency is the most cost-effective method we have to reduce energy consumption and protect the value of a home. In fact, according to a report put out by the CEC, they project that electricity can be reduced 9% and natural gas 6% through cost effective measures which translates to approximately $4.5 billion dollars in consumer savings.
In spite of recent indicators that the country looks to be pulling itself from the current economic decline, such as increased consumer confidence and stronger home sales, jobs are typically one of the last areas to rebound during a recession. There are several reasons for this: employers are leery of making new hires until they are certain the economy is on solid ground; many companies learn to operate at a higher efficiency with fewer workers meaning they might not fill the positions they eliminated; and many workers may stave off retirement for another couple years.
This is why new jobs must be created immediately to help California recover. Over the last year, 1 in 5 California workers who have lost their jobs came from the construction sector meaning many of the workers needed to retrofit and remodel homes, apartments and office buildings will need little or no training.
Taking control of our energy future means creating much needed jobs, putting money in the pockets of consumers and decreasing the effects of global warming. AB 758 is the rare troika that helps accomplish all these goals in the midst of the deepest recession we've seen in decades and it should be a no-brainer for Governor Schwarzenegger to sign. In the dog days of summer when peak demand is at its highest and the electricity meter is spinning faster than at another time its clear that a plan to tackle the biggest energy hog we have - buildings - is a must.