The Science of Sustainability

More Evidence that the Stimulus Bill is Working

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The Bay Area and our neighbor to the north, Portland, Oregon, have had a friendly competition over which of us is the greenest state. Portland scored big points by providing proof positive that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) a.k.a. the Stimulus Bill, has crated good paying, permanent jobs in the new, greener economy.

The Energy Efficiency and Community Block Grant (EECBG) program, which targets urban settings for energy efficiency building retrofit, economic stimulus, and job creation is a sister program of the Weatherization Assistance Program. Both programs are supported by the Department of Energy. Both programs are on the chopping block in the current House budget. The City of Portland, with the help of Green For All, a national nonprofit organization that works to spread the benefits of the new green economy to every level of the economic hierarchy, was given through EECBG access to $1.1-million for a pilot program to retrofit 500 homes in the Portland area. But the money was not a grant—it is a revolving loan. Portland has leveraged the loan fund with public and private investments to generate to date close to $7-million in homeowner investment.

The results so far:

• More than 500 newly retrofitted homes that use on average 450 therms of gas and 7,700 kWh of electricity less than they did before retrofit. At about $1 per therm and $0.12 per kWh (which is what I pay to PG&E) that equals a savings of $1,374 per house per year.

• Employment for 381 construction workers making an average of about $25 per hour. The workforce is about 50% people of color and 8% women.

• Almost one-quarter of the pilot project dollars have gone to minority- or women-owned businesses.

The administrators of the program, including the City of Portland, Energy Trust of Oregon, and Conservation Services Group provide support in the form of information, marketing help, and discounted training to the company’s involved. But the companies were also asked to make a commitment to the communities they serve. The companies hire locally, establish long term relationships with their employees, and move towards having all their employees trained and certified through the Building Performance Institute (BPI) a nationally recognized, and widely respected standards and certification body.

But so far I’ve only given some statistics. There is a story that better illustrates what the Portland program is all about. I spent two summers working as a volunteer in the skid-row area of Portland, around Broadway and Third Street back in the mid-80s. I met a lot of homeless men and women, some Vietnam vets, some World War II vets, who had little hope of a better life. One nun I worked with gave her homeless clients birthday parties as well as other help, just to give then a sense of individual dignity and importance.

Alber Horsely Jr. is a 25-year old formerly homeless Portland resident who was recently trained as a weatherization technician and now has a job earning more than $15 per hour—and he has health benefits. There’s nothing like a job to give a person a sense of dignity and worth and to inspire other homeless men and women and give them some hope for a better future.

The City of Portland, through the 500-home pilot program is working to extend the program to all of Oregon and thereby do energy efficiency upgrades, bringing better health and comfort as well as energy savings to the residents of 6,000 homes per year. Come on California, time to catch up.

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Jim Gunshinan

About the Author ()

Jim Gunshinan is the editor of Home Energy, the magazine of sustainable home building and renovation.