The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was signed into law earlier this year, has been responsible for billions of dollars in grants and other funding for infrastructure upgrades, green jobs training, and other projects designed to help the nation recovery from this recession. Yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden released a new report by the Middle Class Task Force and the White House Council on Environmental Quality — Recovery Through Retrofit.

The topic of retrofitting homes, especially those in low-income areas, is not a new concept for recovery funding. Under and unemployed Americans were able to take advantage of green jobs training programs across the country that prepared them for weatherization and energy-efficiency upgrade projects. As fall is upon us and the weather is turning cold in most parts of the nation, the importance of these retrofit projects is even more pronounced.

Not only will retrofit projects provide gainful employment to many Americans and allow families to save money on their monthly energy bills, it will also reduce the nation’s carbon footprint. The report estimates that the 130 million homes in this country are responsible for more than 20 percent of the nation’s overall greenhouse gas emissions. Typically, commercial buildings are the target of these types of mass retrofit projects because they contribute far more to the nation’s carbon bottom line.

However, the United States could realize a 160 million metric ton annual reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 if each of these homes was 40 percent more energy efficient. This is a substantial reduction that benefits the environment, the nation and everyone’s pocketbook.

Although these numbers look great, the Recovery Through Retrofit report has identified several barriers: access to information, access to financing, and access to skilled workers.

The report makes several recommendations to address these barriers. In order to provide homeowners with consistent and reliable retrofitting information, the report suggests that a program similar to EnergyStar be created for homes and to create a standardized home energy performance measure.

After the mortgage boom and ultimate bust, securing financing for retrofitting projects is not simple. One possible solution is known as the PACE program — Property Assessed Clean Energy financing. The energy-efficient upgrade and retrofit projects are paid off by the homeowner, similar to an annual tax bill. If the original homeowner moves, they don’t take the financial obligation with them. Instead, the new owner will pay the annual portion of the retrofit with their taxes. Since this new owner is directly benefitting from these upgrades, this solution is logical.

Other recommendations to remove the access to financial capital barrier include improving energy-efficient mortgages (EEM) and expanding state revolving loan funds.

Americans are already working on removing the third barrier to a successful Recovery Through Retrofit program: access to skilled workers. Community colleges and nonprofit organizations have joined forces in many parts of the country to provide no- or low-cost energy efficiency and weatherization training and certification.

The Recovery Through Retrofit report takes this a step further and proposes that a standardized training program and certification system be put in place. This will ensure that consumers are receiving consistent training and will help reassure consumers that the contractor they hire has received sufficient training specific to energy retrofits.

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) wants to get the ball rolling on this project as soon as possible. Since the nation faces a jobless recovery, time is of the essence. In order to meet this demand, the “CEQ will convene an interagency Energy Retrofit Working Group chaired by the Department of Energy, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Agriculture, the Department of Labor, and the Environmental Protection Agency, to implement the recommendations and proposed actions of this Recovery Through Retrofit effort and track its progress.” Source: Recovery Through Retrofit (PDF).

The Energy Retrofit Working Group will have an implementation plan on Biden’s desk within 30 days.

To read the entire report, which includes more specific information about how the group proposes to address the three barriers, you can download the report from the White House website: Recovery Through Retrofit (PDF).

Photo: sskennel/Flickr

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