Thursday, April 23, 2009

Northeast carbon auctions seen boosting energy efficiency, creating green jobs

Thursday, April 23 2009

First fruits of cap-and-trade

Some of the first workers on energy efficiency programs are now hitting the streets with salaries paid by the proceeds of the cap-and-trade program started by 10 Northeast States. The green collar corps are starting to march.

23 April 2009
By Doug StruckFor the Daily Climate

BOSTON – Scott Newman was laid off in February from his job repairing home oil heaters, a victim of the dismal economy. Today, he sits in a class with a new job, learning how to sleuth out wasted energy in homes.

Newman is in the vanguard of a green-collar corps created by the nation's first carbon cap-and-trade program, operating in 10 northeastern states. Workers are being hired for a booming expansion of energy efficiency programs, financed by money raised from power companies paying for their carbon emissions under the program.

For Newman, 32, of Holden, Ma., the salary – about $50,000 a year – is important. But the job has other attractions, he said: "Now, I'll be doing something a little more rewarding, more environmentally conscious. I'll be trying to help customers save some money; that's a good feeling. And this looks like a field that will be growing."

Call this the first fruits of the nation's new energy economy.

In a Boston suburb classroom at Conservation Services Group, a nonprofit that has been in the energy efficiency business for 25 years, Newman and 11 other men pore over a manual that dissects the structure of houses and how buildings use – and lose – energy.

Just started on their six-week training, they already are deep into dense terms: Negative vent pressure, induced draft, heat exchangers, sealed combustion furnace components. Before they are done, instructor Mark Donovan will lead them through the intricacies of heating and air conditioning systems, hot water systems, venting, insulation and a host of rules, regulations and government programs offered to encourage homeowners to waste less energy. The new newly-minted auditors then will fan out to make home energy inspections under a Massachusetts program administered through the utility National Grid...

The cap-and-trade program, called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, is intended to force power producers in the northeastern states to cut greenhouse gas pollution by requiring them to buy allowances, which will shrink annually, to offset their emissions.

For every staff person we hire, the independent contractors have to hire ten
people. If we go in and spend four hours looking at a home, ... that turns
into four days of actual work.
- Stephen Cowell, Conservation Services Group.

The RGGI cap-and-trade program is touted as a precursor to a national program from the Obama administration. But the weak economy and decisions by power companies to switch to cheaper natural gas have dropped real carbon dioxide emissions in the region to a level about 19 percent below the RGGI caps. Some argue this has made the government-set caps meaningless and undercuts the value of the program; others disagree.

But there is little dispute the program is achieving one main goal, to finance an aggressive expansion of energy efficiency programs. The first auctions of carbon dioxide allowances held in September, December and March produced $262 million for the programs, just the beginning of a steady stream of funds being funneled to the 10 participating states.

The states, in turn, have started distributing grants to utilities and organizations that will run the programs, which have started hiring contractors like CSG to do the actual work.

Doug Struck covered global warming issues for The Washington Post. He is now a freelance writer and adjunct professor of journalism in Massachusetts.

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