Very few of the stimulus dollars allocated for energy efficiency—and the green jobs they can create—have been allocated or spent by governments. At first this might seem a bit discouraging. Lots of money allocated but caught up in the bureaucracy of federal, state, and local governments. However, a look at green stimulus funding in the Northwest is more encouraging, with some cities and local agencies starting their work off on the right foot.
A recent report by London-based New Energy Finance has found that less than 10 percent of green stimulus money allocated worldwide has actually been spent by governments this year. That’s about $177 billion spent so far on supporting energy efficiencies, renewable energy and green jobs out of more than a trillion available. (The report found that the United States government has spent about 12 percent of its stimulus allocation thus far or about $7.92 billion dollars.)
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Green for All, a national advocacy and action agency focused on energy efficiency and green jobs, has highlighted local stimulus spending in a recent report. Accompanying the report is this chart in which Oregon and Washington feature prominently.
Washington will spend about $14 million of its State Energy Efficiency Program funding on retrofits in urban neighborhoods and another $5 million on low interest loans, according to Green for All. And Oregon will spend $2.5 million in stimulus on Clean Energy Works, a program we’ve highlighted before. But is the money getting into the communities yet? There are two examples in both states that show that strong foundations have been built to support getting the money into action fast and effectively.
In Bellingham, a collaborative effort by the Opportunity Council and Sustainable Connections has just been granted $2.7 million dollars for the Community Energy Challenge, a program that includes retrofits for homeowners and businesses and training for workers to do those retrofits. The money hasn’t been spent yet, but these two organizations are well positioned to make use of it.
Sustainable Connections will focus on aggregating information, creating a one stop shop for people in the community who want to get retrofits and marketing the program. This is important because one of the biggest concerns about retrofits is getting all the right information together in one place. Once information is organized it helps to talk with a knowledgeable person. Information and support helps keep homeowners and businesses on track to complete retrofits.
And the Opportunity Council has for years been a leader in weatherization work. There are few organizations that come closer to the idea of an energy concierge—a surprisingly important component of efficiency investments—than weatherization programs. So the Opportunity Council can manage the projects and also make sure the improvements yield the greatest energy savings to the homeowner or business.
In Portland, Clean Energy Works continues to charge ahead. The program is already qualifying participants for its energy efficiency loan program and the City Council approved a Community Workforce Agreement, signed by businesses, churches and labor unions to focus the job creation effort in the places where it is needed most.
The agreement is more of a promise than a contract, but its important. In order to actually train workers and get them on the job unions, environmental and community organizations need to start talking with one another. The agreement is the first step to getting organizations familiar with each other to build the programs that will train the work force needed to implement the Clean Energy Works model throughout the Portland area.
It is still early and there is a lot of money in the pipeline. But Bellingham’s and Portland’s work so far ought to be instructive to the rest of the country and the world. Focus on bringing groups together that already know how to develop and market programs, train workers and manage energy efficiency projects. Bellingham’s effort relies on existing expertise in marketing and managing energy efficiencies projects. Portland’s agreement is focused on engaging part of the community that haven’t often connected in past, aligning interests to benefit green jobs training. Taking these first steps in the early stages of spending stimulus money improves the chances that the money will have a big impact when it starts flowing, without wasteful mistakes or false starts.