by Jorge Madrid and Adam James
With all the focus on Solyndra and the attacks on green jobs from the Right-wing noise machine, the mainstream media have completely overlooked the explosive success of the weatherization assistance program (WAP) funded almost exclusively by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
With a serious investment under the Recovery Act, WAP increased the numbers of homes weatherized by 1000 percent over any previous year since 1976. This means we are close to weatherizing as many homes in one month (25,000) as we previously did in one year. By the end of ARRA’s three-year lifespan next March, the WAP will almost double the number of homes upgraded in the first year of the program — bringing the total number of energy efficiency projects to 720,000.
The press has focused on negative, headline-grabbing stories about green jobs in recent weeks. But we should not lose sight of the fact that DOE programs like WAP are making a major impact. We already know energy efficiency retrofits create three times the jobs compared with oil and gas, and that WAP has boasted over 14,800 jobs in just the three-month ramp-up period from April to June 2011. Furthermore, an earlier CAP analysis shows if we retrofitted just 40% of our nation’s building stock, we could create 650,000 permanent jobs over a sustained ten year period. The remarkable success of the WAP proves that weatherization can be a source of sustained job creation, and further solidifies the argument for why investments in clean energy are the right kinds of expenditures for these tough economic times.
Not only has the WAP created jobs desperately needed in the construction industry, it also provides a boost for American manufacturing and small businesses. Over 89% of the materials used in home retrofits are made right here in America. And 91% of the firms engaged in retrofit activities are small businesses employing less than 20 people.
Jobs are not the only payout from investments in retrofits. According to a recent study by a DOE national laboratory, these weatherization services have saved families an average of more than $400 in energy costs during the first year. This is especially crucial for low income families, who spend a greater portion of their monthly income (15 to 20 percent) on energy costs. Freeing up income in a family’s budget will mean more spending on other goods and services — such as groceries, school tuition, and rent — further stimulating the overall economy.
Fixing our leaky buildings is also good for the health of the planet. Weatherization decreases national energy consumption by the equivalent of 24.1 million barrels of oil annually. And over the life of WAP, upgrades save 53 metric tons of CO2 emissions per house. Residential and power plant emissions are also greatly reduced on a project by project basis — cutting 2.65 metric tons for every house, every year, after the weatherization upgrade.
This is a sound investment with a phenomenal rate of return: for every $1 invested in the WAP program there are $2.51 returned to the household and broader economy. The $5 billion invested under ARRA, as well as the $180 million invested by 2010 appropriations, shows that the government has put dollars where they are needed the most — when it matters the most. By targeting programs that emphasize job creation, savings for low-income families, energy conservation, and emissions reductions, the Weatherization Assistance Program demonstrates the importance of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
With 38.6 million households eligible under the current program (34% of all U.S. households), the capacity for growth is enormous. With a minimal down payment representing only a fraction of total ARRA funds, the Weatherization Assistance Program is well on track to becoming a national energy efficiency institution. The remarkable gains that hve already been made demonstrate the necessity of increasing support for such programs well into the future.
Adam James is a Special Assistant for Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress; Jorge Madrid is a Research Associate on the Energy Team at the Center for American Progress.