Weatherization efforts in Colorado
December 17, 2009
Some of the best and the brightest minds in our country are vigorously debating the precarious state of our nation's economy and environment. Globally, world leaders are gathered in Denmark to try to find dual solutions to climate change.
Locally, FRESC and the Sierra Club are partnering with community, labor and environmental groups to ensure that the promise of green jobs includes the creation of good jobs for traditionally underrepresented workers: women, people of color, the unemployed and veterans.
The pathway for achieving these goals begins with building America's weatherization industry. With increased federal funding, we must ensure weatherization is an industry that not only helps save our environment, but also uplifts our communities through jobs that provide training opportunities, family-sustaining wages and benefits and career pathways to prosperity.
In addition to creating thousands of good jobs that can't be shipped overseas, a strong Denver weatherization industry could retrofit the estimated 200,000 energy-inefficient residential buildings in the city of Denver, according to the 2007 American Community Survey.
Vice President Biden's Middle Class Task Force recently reported, "Existing techniques and technologies in energy efficiency retrofitting can reduce home energy use by up to 40 percent per home." With these energy savings we could reduce Denver's household energy costs by $110 million a year and save the city the equivalent of taking 4 million cars off the road.
Sound too good to be true? It doesn't have to be. Right now, however, there just isn't the infrastructure in place to meet this potential.
We need to scale up a skilled weatherization workforce, but we need to do it right. In order to create a sustained market for retrofits, we must ensure that any weatherization worker who steps foot in someone's home has the training, skills and certification they need to do the job right the first time. We also need to pay skilled workers the wages they deserve - wages they can support a family on and wages that will put money back into our economy.
Just this fall, Laborers International Union of North America celebrated the graduation of their first weatherization apprentices in Colorado. The graduating class consists of a diverse group of unemployed veterans, women, Mi Casa members and others recruited from the Denver community.
In addition to good jobs for local communities, we can inject money back into our economy by helping middle class families gain access to financing so they can invest in energy savings. The Department of Energy is offering a grant that could be worth up to $100 million per community to create financing options and reduce barriers for average Americans. Gil Sperling, Director of Weatherization for the Department of Energy, recently came to Denver to listen to policymakers and private industry to discuss weatherization.
Mr. Sperling was impressed with what Denver's sustainability office, Greenprint Denver, and community partners have accomplished. The cities of Denver and Boulder are ready to kick-off a new green economy with the help of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's Energy Efficiency Block Grant.
We need to identify ways to ramp up both public and private investment in America's weatherization industry in order to realize the job creation, energy savings and national security benefits this industry could create. Pay-as-you-save models, utility partnerships, bonds and pension fund investments should all be on the table.
Even if a strong climate agreement is reached in Copenhagen, our country and our state will still face difficult questions about climate change and the economy. Building a strong weatherization industry that promotes good paying jobs is an answer to many of these questions and the faster we start to ramp up weatherization, the quicker we will reach solutions.
Carmen Rhodes is executive director of FRESC for Good Jobs and Strong Communities. Robyn Fugett is the director of the Sierra Club's Rocky Mountain Chapter. EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an online-only column and has not been edited.