Efficiency Work HorsesIf you didn’t catch Van Jones’s op-ed today in the Seattle Times, it’s worth a read. As part of the Recovery Act, the Obama administration is investing $80 billion to support clean-energy solutions. The biggest US investment in clean energy—ever. And Jones points out that not only is this creating green-collar jobs in our communities right now, these aren’t necessarily the jobs you might imagine.

When we think of clean energy projects and green-collar jobs, we often go straight to gleaming solar arrays and bright, tall wind turbines. But not all clean-energy solutions are flashy new technologies. In fact, many solutions that save energy, save money, and create jobs in our communities aren’t flashy at all. Instead, they’re tried and true efficiency work horses, often hidden from sight but mighty effective:

While the enthusiasm for tomorrow’s technologies sometimes overlooks the practical solutions being deployed today, the recovery package is also making sure that humbler technologies—like caulking guns, insulation, high-performance boilers and windows—are also being deployed all across America. These hardworking solutions create jobs and save money for Americans every day.

The president’s central insight is straightforward: By retrofitting and improving American homes and buildings to waste less energy, we can save Americans billions of dollars in energy costs. At the same time, we can create jobs and reduce the strain on our nation’s power grid. Reducing the load on our coal-fired power plants would, in turn, cut air pollution—letting everyone breathe a little easier.

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  • “Retrofitting a nation” means weatherizing homes and also looking at how we build community infrastructure. Jones points to some projects happening right now as a direct result of clean-energy funding from the Recovery Act, including Sound Transit’s University Link project, which received $44 million in recovery funding. The University Link expansion is Sound Transit’s first major project to be designed and built in conformance with their Sustainability Initiative and will extend light rail from downtown to the University of Washington.

    Ron Sims—former King County executive and now Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration—has recently awarded a grant to retrofit carports at three Las Vegas public facilities with solar panels and capacity. According to Jones, these carports will then be able to generate power for the attached facilities. That means less electricity used and a smaller bill for Las Vegas’ taxpayers.

    Jones reminds us that completely weatherizing a home will save an average of $350 per year. With gas prices tied to a volatile fossil fuel roller coaster, getting around on light rail or finding other alternatives to driving can save a bundle too. The more convenient and accessible transit is in our neighborhood, the more likely we are to leave the car in the garage.High-tech stuff like solar and wind will be less and less expensive as we bring them up to scale.

    So, flashy or humble, clean-energy retrofits—in our houses and our towns—can save money and provide jobs for a hungry workforce.

    Image courtesy Flickr user iLoveButter under the Creative Commons license.