Green jobs are good; green careers are better 

Green careers can come from the end of a caulk gun. Here’s how it can be done.

Investing in energy efficiency is good business. Lowering the “energy intensity” of business operations increases profits and creates jobs. Japan and Europe have half the level of energy intensity as the U.S. In a competitive world, this matters.

In California, the AB32 climate legislation counts on energy efficiency and green building measures to deliver 52 of 174 million metric tons of carbon reduction by 2020. Thus, energy efficiency may be a great place to start figuring out what green jobs mean, and how to then create green careers.

When utilities offer rebates toward the purchase of energy-saving technologies, those programs usually stop and start, limiting opportunities for long-term jobs. These program cycles have fostered “gypsy”-type companies that chase rebate programs from place to place, and who minimize costs by using a strict “eat what you kill” productivity/reward management approach.

These are, indeed, green jobs. They can pay a lot and they should. The installation of caulk, insulation, new refrigeration or solar panels usually is tough and demanding physical work.

A green career can be the same tough and demanding physical work, except with the distinction that comes with long-term
sustainability.

The “markers” for a green career are things like health insurance, 401(k) plans, and vacation and sick pay. Gypsy companies chasing energy efficiency rebates don’t stand a chance of delivering those rewards, but there’s a proven way to bridge that gap and help deliver the 52 million tons of AB32-mandated sustainability. That way is utility financing.

Utility financing programs help foster more accountable and stable contractor relationships with utilities so energy efficiency programs can do what they are designed for, which is to help deliver energy efficiency as effectively as those utilities deliver energy.

Because measuring what makes the meter run backward is more difficult than when the energy is delivered, consumers, like small businesses, can’t know what they are investing in, so they often just don’t. Cash-flow concerns are often cited as a reason.

A recent television presentation by PBS on the “governor’s gamble” with climate legislation noted just this problem. A California mattress manufacturer was quoted as being concerned with their utility costs rising from $4,000 a month to perhaps $5,000.

“We don’t have the funds to invest in the energy efficiency to lower those costs,” the manufacturer said.

They were mistaken. One site for that company is located in the SDG&E service territory. What that company did not know is that SDG&E offers something called on-bill financing, which is utility financing for energy efficiency improvements at zero percent interest. To qualify, the utility customer must pass simple credit requirements. The loan amount must be more than $5,000 and any project that SDG&E provides rebates for is eligible.

All California utilities will soon offer the same financing. Plus, an exciting addition to what the utilities offer is financing by local governments using property tax liens as a way to secure efficiency and renewable investments. Like OBF, the loan payments are paid for through the savings. California was just awarded and issued funds to support various PACE revolving loan pools repaid through efficiency — perhaps not your worst example of the stimulus funds at work.

Here’s the jobs payoff: It turns out that a stable access to capital mechanism can be the key to stabilizing energy efficiency programs, contractors and, thus, communities.

No more chasing programs means small contracting companies can grow steadily and sustainably, and the employees of those companies are able to raise families where health is protected, savings can be accumulated and every kid gets at least one trip to Disneyland.

That’s where there’s the biggest payoff: Green jobs can become green careers. Small companies can grow sustainably, and that means more profits for small businesses, and savings from energy efficiency that we can count on.

It’s good business, plain and simple. 

Hank Ryan is executive director of Small Business California, a nonprofit advocacy organization.

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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