California Goes To Hell In A Handbasket But Greenius Says AB 811 is Our Route To Green Heaven

P1040763As my beloved state of California’s driftless and leaderless economy was being driven deeper and deeper into the toilet by the least impressive occupants of Sacramento in modern history, I hopped in my del Sol Greeniusmobile and motored to downtown Los Angeles last month headed for the palatial headquarters of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the MTA.

I had ventured forth from the calm, cooling breezes of my mellow beach community because the treasure map I had recently discovered showed that over $600 million was available inside that building.

The treasure chest was cleverly disguised in the form of Federal stimulus money from the ARRA, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  Imagine that.

While it’s sad but true that the entire gang in Sacramento can no longer figure out how to make California work,  President Obama and his “Yes I Can” team do know what they’re doing.  That’s why they have authorized over $7 billion bucks in energy efficiency and clean energy programs for the USA.  And damned if California isn’t going to score like a horny Republican Governor on Viagra in Argentina.

As the Greenius learned in early June, when I was at the EcoMotion Palm Desert AB 811 conference, programs like the Greenius’ favorite, AB 811, were tailor-made to score great big bagfuls of bucks from this stimulus.

See, California’s AB 811 is all about funding solar energy and energy efficiency for property owners.  It’s pretty swell all by itself, but it doesn’t work too well in the current state economic climate where IOUs have ruled and our ex movie star Governor has gone full on looney tunes taking to posting wacky YouTube videos interacting with his big old OJ style knife.


Meanwhile, on the planet earth…

That’s where that ARRA Federal stimulus money I mentioned and our own California Public Utility Commission’s strategic plan come into play to create a perfect storm of green home energy retrofitting.  And the Greenius is here to tell you that perfect storm is going to sweep over California like the coming wildfire fueled by drought and those bark beetle-infested zombie trees that have replaced once living trees in the western states… but I digress.

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One guy who doesn’t ever seem to digress is Brian Gitt of Bevilacoua Knight, Inc. who I wrote about last month. Gitt is one of the sharpest, most knowledgeable and dynamic people I’ve met on the green scene.  Before he became a principal consultant with BKi, Gitt spent five years with Build it Green helping to conceive and implement the GreenPoint Rating system.

GPR.logo.vert.RGB

Today, Gitt is the guy “Putting It All Together” as he titles his presentation on Home Energy Retrofit Programs, and he’s the one smart enough to connect the dots between things like our Public Utilities Commission (PUC) strategic plan, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of ’09, and AB 811 among other things.

And here’s what he told the 50 of us who were in the Executive Board Room of the MTA HQ on June 24 that got me so excited.

cpuc_logoLet’s start off first with the PUC strategic plan, which has a goal of achieving an average 40% energy reduction on every home in California by 2020 – roughly 11 years from now.  That means doing an energy retrofit on all of our 13.2 million existing housing units. (75% of that existing home stock was built before 1980.)

Looking at that on the local level, here in Los Angeles County, we’ve got 3,400,000 existing housing units for our 10 million people.  That’s 3.4 million for those of you numerically challenged.  So doing the simple math that means we’ve got to retrofit 300,000 housing units a year to meet the PUC goal.  That’s 6,000 housing units a week and that’s retrofitting 1,200 housing units every day, five day s a week for the next 11 years to meet the goal.

Why would we want to take on such a huge job?  Because buildings in California are responsible for 23% of all our greenhouse gas emissions for one thing, so when you cut energy use in existing housing you’re cutting the CO2 we pump into the atmosphere.  That’s not just important because we’re already over the safe limit of CO2 and we’re destroying the climate, but it’s important because of our state’s AB 32’s emission mandates, and the Cool Cities emissions mandates which every city here in my South Bay has committed to at the government level.

And even more importantly to cash-strapped homeowners, when you cut your energy use you’re also cutting the amount you pay every single month for energy.  Here at my home we’ve cut our electrical bill more than in half.  We can’t wait to go solar so we’re we can stop paying the electric company for dirty energy.

using-ab-811-to-financeSince it provides easy financing for solar PV and energy efficiency, AB 811 fits into all this like a hand-in-glove.  But without any money from clean energy bond funding, AB 811 would be just another empty promise.

But snatching victory from the jaws of defeat – like a last second Derek Fisher three pointer at the buzzer – as I discovered from Brian Gitt, is the infusion of ARRA stimulus money.  It is nothing short of a monumental game-changer that has transformed the long held financial reality on the ground. A reality most people didn’t even realize existed.

Forever now, the local utilities have had all the money and local governments haven’t had any.  (No wonder so few people at the local government level have a clue how to budget or use the funds they do have.) Now the money from the Feds changes that equation.

You’re not going to read this big money news in the L.A. Times or in the Daily Breeze, and you’re not going to hear about it on any local news broadcast until much later down the line when they finally get a clue.  There was no reporter in the room last month, and there’s been no media coverage of this meeting.

Maybe if we’re lucky, NPR and PBS will pick up on this story after they read this blog piece (how nice for them that someone has done the reporting legwork for free).  But at this moment in time, I’m the only journalist telling you that it’s a brand new day and all of a sudden local government coffers are being filled with big bucks to implement the very well thought out energy and emissions programs already on the books here in the Golden State.

And the one thing the Greenius understands for sure that’s coming along with all that dough is jobs, jobs, jobs to green retrofit the 13.2 million homes here in California.

I’m talking about the job of going to every one of those 13.2 million California houses and performing an energy audit to find the areas where energy savings can take place.  But before those jobs get filled I’m talking about the job of training all those people to perform those audits.  So add up the jobs for teachers at community colleges and vocational centers all over California.  And all the jobs related to that task.  Are you smelling the employment picture here?

energy-efficient-home12Let me paint an easy to understand money and success picture for you here:

Imagine me, your Creative Greenius having received my training and certification to do the energy audit, visits your home, conducts the audit and then recommends the energy saving work to be done.  I give you a menu with pricing and rebate information for each item recommended and you choose enough to add up to 40% energy savings.

I then arrange for the right trained contractors to come and do that work and schedule the date with you after helping you navigate the different rebate and tax credit programs available to you.  The contractors then come out and weatherize, replace doors and windows, add solatubes, replace antiquated energy wasting heat and air with new, high efficient energy saving systems, or add solar hot water or electric power generation, depending on your home’s needs and the most bang for your energy buck.

IR ScanningI come back after the work has been completed and having also been certified to employ Green Building Standards, HERRS II ratings and GreenPoint ratings to verify that the work had been properly done and is actually saving the energy it was supposed to, I sign off on your retrofit which qualifies you to get the loans, rebates and tax credits that makes it all affordable.

And when it comes to a wide open job market, that’s precisely what we’re looking at here, folks, because even though we’re going to need tens of thousands of people to do these jobs IN JUST L.A. COUNTY ALONE, right now here in the state of California you can count the number who are qualified to do the work on your hands and toes.

recovery_gov_symbol(2)In an era when construction workers and contractors are unemployed and broke, this is huge great news and a new lease on life for an industry that’s begging for it.  So is the $500 million in Green Jobs funding that’s also part of the ARRA stimulus package.

And if you want to get a handle on just how big a deal this is going to be here in California, dig these facts that Gitt laid on the handful of us who showed up for that June 24th L.A. County meeting.

ceaThe California Energy Commission is getting $226 million dollars from the Feds, and it’s already been decided to spend $170 million of that on builiding retrofits.

The Energy Efficiency & Conservation Block Grants is giving $302 million to local California governments and L.A. County is getting $15 million of that and almost $11 million will be used to get the L.A. Countywide AB 811 program off the ground.

Another $30 to $50 million is going to start up funds for AB 811 programs and thanks to the vision and smarts of L.A. County’s Energy Manager, Howard Choy, L.A. County is first in line for a big chunk of that money.  It was Howard’s meeting we were attending downtown and Gitt praised our host as the man who had put L.A. county at the head of the line thanks to his hard work and planning.

Did I mention the addition $185 million California is getting from the new Weatherization Assistance Program or the $30 million that’s coming to our state from the Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Programs?

So the money is there, the jobs needing to be filled is there, the work waiting to be done is there – and all when every city in L.A. County is hurting worse than they have since the Great Depression.

LACoSealYou’d figure every one of the 88 cities in L.A. County would have been at this first meeting as the big program is just getting started and cities have a chance to help shape and participate in that program from the ground floor.

But you’d have been wrong, because not only was the media too busy that day, so were the cities that needed to be there most.  Instead only eight different cities were represented by my count:

  1. Manhattan Beach
  2. Redondo Beach
  3. West Covina
  4. Burbank
  5. La Canada Flintridge
  6. La Puente
  7. Pasadena
  8. Santa Monica

Also there were some folks from the Clinton Climate Initiative, EcoMotion, the South Bay Cities Council of Governments and the South Bay Environmental Services Center.

I personally tried to lobby the folks in my own city of Torrance government, but couldn’t motivate anyone on the City Council or on City Staff to take the two hours out of their schedules and be part of this process.  That’s what happens when you tell the truth too often about people with big egos and thin skins who don’t like to think of themselves as public servants.

Fortunately, it’s not too late to get on board this train before it leaves the station.  The L.A. County AB 811 program is about a year from granting its first loans to property owners.  Howard Choy is looking for the cities who want to have a voice in shaping the program to participate in the future meetings.

That’s what I told the City Council of Malibu on July 13 when I spoke at their council meeting at the invitation of Councilman Jefferson Wagner and City Clerk Lisa Pope.

I told them it was clear to this Greenius that the cities who sit around the table as the county program is developed will be the cities who have the most influence in shaping the program.  How could it be any other way?

And because of the scale and scope of the Countywide AB 811 program, covering our population of over 10 million people, it’s going to be the only AB 811 game you’re going to want to be a part of.  Especially since the only thing your city needs to do in order to be part of the County’s program is have your city council pass a resolution saying they want to be part of the County program.

Hell, even my Exxon/Mobile-loving city council of Torrance is capable of that.

And lucky for all of us, the County’s not looking for the cities to carry the burden of any of this program.  The County knows how strapped cities are.  The economies of scale offered by the County make the benefits of mutual coordination a no brainer.

sbesc1Best of all the County is wise enough to see the merit in using Environmental Service Centers to help educate the public on all the program details, rebate availabilities, tax credits and other elements that make a one-stop environmental service center an invaluable partner in rolling out these programs and helping to administer them.

I’m proud to have been volunteering for the past couple of years with the only ESC in all of Los Angeles County, the South Bay Environmental Services Center and I was prouder still to sit with the SBESC’s program manager, Marilyn Lyon and her boss, the Executive Director of the South Bay Cities Council of Governments, Jackie Bacharach, at the County’s AB 811 meeting.  Seated right in front of us was another woman I’m a big fan of, Susan Monves from Santa Monica’s environmental department.  These are people I know from past experience who can get the job done.

That same past experience along with the mess they’ve gotten us into, causes me to have zero faith or confidence in my local elected representatives.  But with Susan, Marilyn and Jackie on the case, along with Howard Choy and Glen Byers at the County level, and consultants like Brian Gitt and Mimi Frusha, I KNOW that this L.A. County AB 811 program, and the home energy retrofits that are part of it, are going to bring jobs, more renewable energy, and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions right home to where I live.

In a shallow, bankrupt era filled with meaningless celebrity gossip, this is the biggest and best news you’re going to find anwhere.


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4 thoughts on “California Goes To Hell In A Handbasket But Greenius Says AB 811 is Our Route To Green Heaven

  1. Hi Joe,

    If there is so much cash coming in for energy programs, why is ab 811 loans and not rebates? To what environmental uses does the money go when the loans are repaid? Training programs? Charities? Municipal retrofits?

    It’s still all wonderful news. Thanks for reporting what no one else seems to be aware of.

    From the Greenius:
    Those are good questions, Betsy. Of course with our state now broke and broken at the budget level the idea that they’ll give us rebates instead of loans seems highly unlikely.

    The AB 811 loan money comes from the sale of “clean energy bonds” that investors buy. Those bonds will pay good interest to investors for the 20 year period that they finance the loans. It remains to be seen, because the L.A. County program is not yet formed, whether any stimulus money will be used for the loans themselves.

    I’m happy to cover this story and I’m just as happy to spend my time to help the county build and roll out this program.

  2. Dear Creativegreenius,

    Just thought I’d mention that using ARRA money for AB 811-type programs will most likely trigger “prevailing wage.” Important to keep in mind as we assess the opportunities for green jobs in the home retrofit area. From what I know, “prevailing wage” adds somewhere between 20-30% to a job’s cost.

    Greenius:
    That’s okay, Virginia, because prevailing wage is a fair price to pay people for the work they do. It’s not just about shareholder value for corporate fat cats and investors it’s about putting people to work and paying them a fair and decent wage.

    And as far as I’m concerned our friends at Chevron and Exxon should be paying that extra 20-30% out of their obscene profits in penance for the death and destruction they are responsible for. And they ought to be making those payments today while we still have a chance to save ourselves from the hell and high water using their product is bringing fast.

    What does EcoMotion think about that?

  3. Hi Joe! I watched your presentation about AB811 to Malibu and wondered what success you’ve had?
    Thanks!

    [Greenius: Hi Amanda, Well, I’ve been working on a related project full time since July 10 and tomorrow we’ll be presenting the Amazing Waving Human Tide Line as the Los Angeles representatives of the International Day of Climate Action. I’m pretty sure the success of this work will help us reach an even wider audience for the L.A. County AB 811 program. I’d like to have a crack at heading up the outreach and awareness program for the county.]

  4. I’m a owner of a 4 unit apartment, would I be eligible for solar panels? It could help to market the rentals, as electricity cost for tenants are very high in this all electric building (no gas).

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