It's not a new story. More than 30 years ago, the much-maligned Carter administration put together a budget to weatherize homes and fund innovative technologies and outreach programs that would make them energy efficient. Over the years, despite the naysayers and obstructionists, starting with Ronald Reagan, considerable progress has been made in achieving that goal. One Daily Kos regular, A Siegel, has often written about the modern results and possibilities here. The Obama administration has taken steps - via the Recovery Act and regular energy budget - to make additional progress.
But, as a report released last week by Environment America pointed out, we have a long way to go, and if a stronger government effort were made to get there, American families could be saving not just a lot of energy, but also a lot of bucks over the next 20 years. Not just a few bucks, but $1300 a family by 2030. And all the while curtailing emissions of greenhouse gases. How? Government investment in more efficient buildings.
Policies to achieve this, Environment America says, include:
• Steady improvements to building codes over time so that all new buildings are increasingly efficient, culminating in a zero net energy standard by 2030. This means that in 20 years, every new building that is constructed will be so efficient that it can produce all the power it needs right onsite from renewable sources like solar panels or wind turbines.
• Investing in energy retrofits and weatherization to improve the efficiency of existing buildings 30 percent by 2030.
• Supporting innovative financing mechanisms that will unleash public and private investment in building efficiency.
Rob Sargent, Environment America’s Energy Program Director, said, “There are already thousands of super-efficient buildings all around the country. Most buildings last for decades, so investing in energy efficiency locks in savings for years to come and builds a strong foundation for the future of our environment and our economy.”
The other benefit from such a program is that it would, Environment America reports, chop greenhouse gas emissions from buildings by nearly 20 percent by 2020, prevent the emission of 1.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually by 2050 and bring the U.S. total of building-associated emissions to a level 25 percent below today's by 2050.
The cost of this? No calculations were made for the report released last week. But according to a May 2009 report from Environment America, Building a Better Future: Moving Toward Zero Pollution with Highly Efficient Homes and Businesses, a little under $1 trillion for retrofits. That's %632 billion for retrofitting residences and $300 billion for commercial buildings. The annual return for the residences alone: $182 billion.
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