Five dollars to the first person who can find a new metaphor to replace “the low hanging fruit.” Until such time, however, it remains an apt visual to describe the easy first-steps we must all take in our shared mission of reducing our energy consumption.
As you and I sit back down at our desks this morning, our legislators--rookies and veterans--return from their districts to begin the long and difficult task of crafting an economic recovery program with President elect Obama.
Regardless of how you feel about his overall politics, most people involved in energy issues believe that he is the right man at the right time for our country. He appears to share our belief that energy issues present important hurdles and opportunities for our nation.
In New Energy for America he and Joe Biden state, “We must act quickly and we must act boldly to transform our entire economy—from our cars and our fuels to our factories and our buildings.” More specifically, he seems to understand the critical importance of decreasing energy demand as the necessary first step to changing our energy paradigm. In his December 6, 2008, radio address he added, “First, we will launch a massive effort to make public buildings more energy efficient. Our government now pays the highest energy bill in the world. We need to change that. We need to upgrade our federal buildings by replacing old heating systems and installing efficient light bulbs.”
Upgrading HVAC, light bulbs and insulation isn’t sexy, but these are required actions before any renewable energy projects are undertaken. It perpetuates wasteful DoD spending policies to build a 5 MW solar array for an installation, when, if only demand had been scaled initially, a 3 MW solar array would have sufficed.
According to Robin West, founder and CEO of PFC Energy, there is no lower hanging fruit than these demand-side initiatives. They provide the highest return on investment with minimal capital outlay while simultaneously affecting employee conservation attitudes.
President elect Obama has repeated talked about improving the energy efficiency of all buildings in the federal inventory. This represents over 400,000 buildings and more than three billion square feet of office space. The time is now for Congress and the President to commit to retrofitting all appropriate federal office buildings with closed cell spray polyurethane foam (CCSPF) insulation in their roofs, attics or ceilings. This initiative would require an appropriation of approximately $4 billion in the economic recovery package. But it would improve building efficiency by 25% to 33% and the process could create as many as 55,000 skilled jobs in green technology companies.
Additionally, a project of such a grand scale would speed the process of making insulation retrofits more affordable for working Americans. As energy prices fluctuate rapidly these days, the deleterious affects of unpredictable utility bills hits America’s poorest families hardest. Weatherization programs have been in effect through the Federal Energy Management Program for years but these programs would be improved and accelerated by a nationwide push to retrofit all federal buildings with CCSPF.
We can make a case for improved energy efficiency based on any number of important issues: national security, foreign policy, defense spending, and American exceptionalism. But the most important arguments today stem from jobs creation, federal spending and economic recovery.
The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few to pick this low hanging fruit. With a little help from our friends in Washington, we can find all the workers we need to attend to what may be our country’s most important crop.