San Luis Obispo County is taking part in CaliforniaFIRST, a pilot energy efficiency program projected to create approximately 2,000 new jobs and save the equivalent energy usage of more than 10,600 average California homes over the next two years.
San Luis Obispo is one of 14 counties, out of California’s 58, which will participate in the CaliforniaFIRST Pilot Program. It is taking part largely due to the grassroots efforts of groups such as SLO Green Build.
The movement, which is a means of implementing state Assembly Bill 811, will attempt to increase energy efficiency in existing homes at least 30 percent by the year 2020.
Using a policy first employed by the city of Palm Desert, California, the program allows homeowners to take out a loan in order to retrofit their homes.
The retrofitting refers to remodeling homes to improve their energy efficiency.
“A retrofit for energy efficiency is pretty wide-ranging, whereas for an earthquake retrofit you would probably have to repair the whole structure,” Lovgren said.
For example, a retrofit could be as basic as switching out high-use light fixtures and appliances, or as extensive as renovating the actual building structure.
Improvements, whether structural or otherwise, are paid for by a loan which, during the pilot phase of the program, will have an approximately 7 percent interest rate. This will allow homeowners to, among other things, buy Energy Star-certified double-pane windows with no out-of-pocket expenditure.
The cost of the loan and interest is intended to be offset by energy savings. Dennis Elliot, campus Sustainability Manager in Facility Services and Green Campus staff advisor, said he thought the CaliforniaFIRST initiative was a good idea.
“Energy efficiency is one of the few renovations that pays for itself,” Elliot said. He added that it also has the potential to increase resale value.
Since renovating homes, instead of building new ones, is the program’s main focus, San Luis Obispo has another reason to participate. Of the county’s approximately 117,000 homes, 90,000 are more than 20 years old. The CaliforniaFIRST initiative will focus on improving homes built before the stricter building codes of the early ’90s.
But the main reason San Luis Obispo County is participating in the pilot program, according to Cal Poly graduate and former president of Empower Poly Coalition Chad Worth, is because it wanted to. Worth is currently teaching an introductory course to green technology at Cuesta College, and said there is a lot of interest in energy efficiency in the county.
“So basically it comes down to the grassroots efforts,” Worth said. “A lot of the citizens in our county are very active.”
Worth explained grassroots group SLO Green Build, a non-profit coalition that promotes sustainable development and green building techniques on the Central Coast, was one of the key players in implementing the CaliforniaFIRST program locally.
“SLO Green Build is probably the biggest driver for working with the California County Board of Supervisors to opt in for the program,” Worth said.
Nick Alter, vice president of SLO Green Build, is one of the members who helped to get the CaliforniaFIRST program adopted.
“The program addresses the most insurmountable barrier for homeowners to go forward with the retrofitting of their homes,” he said. “The key, really the most important aspect, is to address this fundamental need for a funding mechanism.”
Not only will the program save the state’s energy resources, Alter said it will create many jobs at the local level as well.
“This will all combine to stimulate jobs for homebuilders and contractors. Creating green jobs is a very important goal at the federal, state and local levels.”
For example, certified workers are needed to implement the retrofits. Kevin Hauber, a homeowner and SLO Green Build’s treasurer and secretary, was one of the speakers who helped to get Assembly Bill 811 passed at the county level in December 2009.
The number of jobs created within the county will depend on the scale of participants, Hauber said, “But up to several hundred jobs a year will be created in the process.”
The program could potentially create job and internship opportunities for Cal Poly students as well. Hauber said the Green Building Alliance, which is a facet of SLO Green Build, is a good starting point for students who want to get involved. It meets at the Clubhouse Restaurant in San Luis Obispo at 5 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month.