AB 32: A Breath Of Fresh Air That Saves Money And Adds Jobs

(July 30, 2010)


July 30, 2010

Some in California worry that by regulating carbon emissions we'll be putting our economy on the back burner. But nothing in our recent history has indicated that California must choose between economic stability and environmental responsibility.

Innovative energy policies established in the 1970s have saved California consumers $56 billion and created 1.5 million full-time jobs with a payroll of $45 billion. From 1995 to 2008, clean, safe energy generation jobs in the Inland Empire grew by 85 percent with the highest concentration in solar and wind. In 2008, energy efficiency jobs grew by 91 percent, according to Next 10, a nonpartisan think tank.

Mayor Steve Pougnet has set the stage for Palm Springs to be one of only six Innovation Hubs in the state of California — a center of renewable energy job growth in Southern California. At a recent press conference, Mayor Pougnet said our state's energy policies help to drive innovation, adding, "We want to keep that money in California, we want to create those jobs in California and export that to the rest of the country. California has always been a leader and innovator in entrepreneurship."

Pougnet understands that we have a game plan to roll out a clean energy future with Assembly Bill 32, also known as the Global Warming Solutions Act. Signed into law in 2006, AB 32 requires that by 2020 the state's greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to 1990 levels, a 15 percent reduction under business- as-usual estimates.

As an architect and energy expert, I am keenly aware of the connection between energy efficiency and savings. The Department of Energy found that for the average homeowner, a $2,500 investment in an energy efficiency retrofit could cut energy bills by 30 percent. That translates into real savings — about $900 a year for the average household. In fact, there is a list of simple things anyone (even renters) can do around their home today that will cut energy bills by 15 percent with almost no investment at all.

The catastrophic BP Gulf oil spill demonstrates that the most expensive thing we can do about our fossil fuel dependence and climate change is nothing. University of California economists calculate that left unchecked, climate change could cost our state $47 billion every year, putting real estate, infrastructure and other assets at risk.

Riverside County was recently given an “F” by the American Lung Association as a part of its annual report card for ozone and particulate pollution. Exposure to high levels of air pollutants, including ozone precursors, particulate matter and toxic air contaminants from increased energy production, electricity use, fuel evaporation, diesel trucks and other sources, are contributors to respiratory diseases. Between 2005 and 2007, 30,000 illnesses and diseases in California were caused by or related to exposure to excessive levels of ozone and particulate pollution.

Contributing to our depleting ozone layer are our poorly designed buildings with inefficient energy systems. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings account for nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions, 72 percent of our electricity, and 39 percent of overall energy use. Energy-efficient buildings consume 26 percent less energy and can save operational costs as much as 10 percent, with an additional savings for maintenance costs.

Green building offers opportunity. Contractors and building specialists are retraining to retrofit existing buildings, install solar panels and build clean energy technologies. Some of the training is being done on the job. Most of these jobs pay higher wages than traditional manufacturing.

Courses in green construction, thermal energy and alternative fuel are being offered in many of the 110 California community colleges. Southern California Edison has supported the colleges, as they will be hiring 1,200 new employees in Fontana, where their massive solar installation with ProLogis is under way. The project will generate 2 million watts of clean energy to our grid, help to lower utility bills, and help generate much needed property taxes for our county.

If new, better-paying jobs, healthier air, driving money into the local economy and saving money is attractive, then AB 32 is a breath of fresh clean air.

Eric Corey Freed is a licensed architect and author of four books, including the best-selling “Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies” and “Green$ense for the Home.“ He is chairman of the Coachella Valley chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.