Saving energy, shifting to solar, and creating jobs

Saving energy can create jobs -- lots of them. So says Mark Cooper, who cites ways to boost jobs in the construction and allied industries, using technologies and materials already at hand.

"Active solar systems," says Mr. Cooper, research director of the Consumer Energy Council of America, "produce roughly four times as many jobs as petroleum or gas production, and five times as many jobs as synfuels production."

Once oil and natural gas fields, or sythetic fuel plants, are in operation, its takes relatively few people to run them. The expanding solar hardware industry, by contrast, should provide many thousands of skilled people with work.

Even more productive of jobs, in Mr. Cooper's view, is weatherization of existing buildings -- roughly 20 times as many jobs as the generation of electricity, 10 times as many jobs as oil or gas production.

He calls on the US construction industry, hard-hit by recession, to coalesce around the theme of energy conservation.

"The voice of conservation," he says, "has been scattered and largely powerless. There is one powerful constituency that could serve as the political home for the policy of conservation. That group is the American labor movement."

Conservation, to some extent, already is a going concern in the United States. Oil imports, reports the Department of Energy (DOE), are running nearly 14 percent below the level of a year ago.

These savings are achieved largely as a result of price. Higher price tags on gasoline and fuel oil prompt families and businessmen to burn less fuel.

What Mr. Cooper advocates is making the nation's existing and future stock of buildings more energy-efficient.

Roger W. Sant, director of the Energy Productivity Center of the Mellon Institute, puts it another way. He says 40 percent of the total cost of energy services goes to "amortizing, maintaining, and operating the equipment necessary to convert fuels into useful functions" -- not for the fuel itself.

"Really good bargains," he says, are double-paned windows, automatic flue dampers, electronic pilot lights, sophisticated thermostats, and small units that generate electricity and heat simultaneously.

Skilled workers are needed to make and install such devices. Here Mr. Cooper and Mr. Sant appear to come together in their thinking.

Conservation saves fuel, reduces US dependence on foreign oil -- for which Americans now spend $400 a person yearly -- and, along the way, creates jobs.

"Every house we solarize to the optimum," Mr. Cooper says, "produces 125 hours of on-site labor, 40 hours of work in metal fabrication, 26 hours in the making of heating and plumbing equipment, 20 hours of work in the manufacture of machinery and instruments, and 4 hours of labor in stone and clay industries."

To weatherize buildings -- using insulation, weather-stripping, double-paned windows -- also creates work.

Correctly designed new buildings, the DOE reports, would consume 17 to 52 percent less energy than comparable older homes, apartment buildings, and commercial structures.

There are two kinds of conservation policies, says Mr. Cooper. "One is the simple deprivation approach: Keep on raising prices until people stop buying as much energy."

A second approach, in his view, is "much more positive -- improving the nation's capital stock, by building conservation into buildings and equipment."

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