President Obama and former President Bill Clinton have kicked off a $4-billion public-private program to upgrade a wide range of buildings to make them more energy efficient. Design and construction officials praised the initiative but said other measures could deepen its impact.
Unveiled on Dec. 2 as Obama and Clinton toured a Washington, D.C., renovation project, the plan follows earlier green-buildings efforts by the White House and private companies. In a nod to Capitol Hill realities, the program has no new federal spending or tax incentives, which would require approval from a Congress that has slashed budgets for programs such as General Services Administration new-buildings construction.
Industry officials welcomed the new plan. Jason Hartke, U.S. Green Building Council vice president for national policy, says, "This is a tremendous announcement … that's going to get people back to work." He adds, "It sits at this unique nexus of saving energy … saving businesses money and creating jobs. That's just a tough calculus to beat." Obama called the threefold benefits "a trifecta."
The federal part of the plan aims to carry out at least $2 billion in green buildings improvements over two years. Financing will come through contracts for energy-savings performance—an existing mechanism under which energy savings pay for green projects' up-front costs.
On the non-federal side, 60 companies, universities, labor unions, hospitals, cities and states have committed to upgrading 1.6 billion sq ft of building space. A key element is the financial firms' $2-billion pledge to fund the non-federal projects. That expands a Clinton Global Initiative commitment in June by 14 private or public entities to upgrade 300 million sq ft and provide $500 million to pay for the work.
Andrew Goldberg, American Institute of Architects managing director for government relations, says, "Having this commitment to do the funding means that a lot of architects, engineers and others are going to be able to get to work pretty quickly [on] a whole bunch of retrofits." Now, Hartke adds, "We've got to translate [the plan] into implementation."
Industry officials think the program could use some add-ons. Hartke suggests the Treasury Dept. take steps to make the deduction for energy-efficiency improvements to commercial buildings easier for taxpayers to use. AIA continues to lobby for energy-efficiency tax breaks, Goldberg says.
Another program supporter, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue, said the energy- savings contracts have great potential but called them "grossly underutilized." The Chamber of Commerce has proposed, among other steps, additional training for federal employees who work with the contracts and a presidential executive order directing agencies to use the contracts for most of their energy projects.