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White House, Clinton Global Initiative Announce $4 Billion in Energy Retrofits

The “We Can’t Wait” series of executive orders and announcements has strayed away from the economy in recent weeks and toward perfunctory things like improving executive branch performance, and also counter-productive budget cutting under the guise of eliminating “waste.” But this latest effort, which involves former President Clinton, actually sounds like a pretty good piece of what needs to be a very large strategy. The White House will announce today a program to upgrade the energy efficiency of public and private buildings, an investment of up to $4 billion over two years that will improve the job picture modestly in the construction and building sector.

President Obama today announced nearly $4 billion in combined federal and private sector energy upgrades to buildings over the next 2 years. These investments will save billions in energy costs, promote energy independence, and, according to independent estimates, create tens of thousands of jobs in the hard-hit construction sector. The $4 billion investment announced today includes a $2 billion commitment, made through the issuance of a Presidential Memorandum, to energy upgrades of federal buildings using long term energy savings to pay for up-front costs, at no cost to taxpayers. In addition, 60 CEOs, mayors, university presidents, and labor leaders today committed to invest nearly $2 billion of private capital into energy efficiency projects; and to upgrade energy performance by a minimum of 20% by 2020 in 1.6 billion square feet of office, industrial, municipal, hospital, university, community college and school buildings. This announcement builds on a commitment made by 14 partners at the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in June to make energy upgrades across 300 million square feet, and to invest $500 million in private sector financing in energy efficiency projects.

Today’s commitments were announced by President Obama and former President Clinton along with representatives from more than 60 organizations as part of the Better Buildings Challenge. The Challenge is part of the Better Buildings Initiative launched in February by President Obama, and is spearheaded by former President Clinton and the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness to support job creation by catalyzing private sector investment in commercial and industrial building energy upgrades to make America’s buildings 20 percent more efficient over the next decade, reducing energy costs for American businesses by nearly $40 billion. Last year, commercial buildings consumed roughly 20 percent of all the energy used by the U.S. economy.

I’m usually skeptical of these “challenges,” but the private partners have already been lined up, and they match the initiative on federal buildings dollar for dollar. Big companies like 3M, Alcoa, Briggs & Stratton, GE, Kohl’s, TIAA-CREF, Southern California Edison, Walgreens and plenty more are already committed.

There was some money given for energy retrofits in the stimulus, but this announcement keeps that money flowing.

Obviously $4 billion over two years isn’t going to do a lot to the overall economic picture. The estimate is that this will create 50,000 jobs, a drop in the bucket. But this is a win-win on its own. Jobs are created in the energy retrofit sector. The result of that is a savings in energy costs. That helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and could spur other businesses to upgrade their facilities to compete on reducing their overhead. The savings on the bottom line from those costs could lead to hiring, or at least not reducing labor costs when other reductions have been realized. So for a lot of reasons, this is exactly what we should be encouraging, and I’m glad that the Clinton Global Initiative is working in concert with the White House to get it done. It actually uses a leftover Clinton Administration program, Energy Savings Performance Contracts, to get it done.

More from the AP.

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David Dayen

David Dayen