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Seizing the moment: How proven clean-energy strategies can supercharge the American Jobs Plan

image credit: Carlos Delgado

Rebecca Foster's picture
CEO VEIC

CEO of VEIC. Working nationally at the intersection of decarbonization, innovation, and equity.

  • Member since 2021
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President Biden offered a momentous, but simple, framework for his Joint Address to Congress on April 28: “Tonight I come to talk about crisis and opportunity.” He commented on the COVID pandemic, the economy, and the climate crisis. Linking economic health and climate health, the President spoke about productive re-employment of America’s workforce: “For too long we’ve failed to use the most important word when it comes to meeting the climate crisis: Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.” 

It took decades of experimenting, technological ingenuity, and creative thinking to get to today’s pivotal moment of “reimagining and rebuilding” the United States. Thanks to VEIC’s 35 years of delivering equitable and innovative clean-energy solutions to the market, we know that achieving the ambitious goals in the American Jobs Plan is possible. It will require scaling up new technologies and implementing a diverse set of strategies. The good news is: We're ready. 

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VEIC and other clean-energy organizations now have an opportunity to share what we’ve known for years: Energy efficiency and building decarbonization are high-impact, beneficial investments that improve physical infrastructure—from our housing and the buildings we work in, to the transportation and health systems that are vital to our well-being. There are several parts of the Jobs Plan that can be carried out quickly and sustainably, at scale. We have proven methods in three areas: decarbonizing low- to moderate-income (LMI) households; electrifying school buses; and creating and expanding a green workforce.  

Bringing decarbonization benefits to LMI households. We offer solutions that improve energy affordability through building decarbonization. This work includes adding electrification measures to weatherization assistance and home heating programs, designing net-zero energy replacements for manufactured and mobile homes, and bringing equitable energy solutions to multifamily buildings to ensure both tenants and owners benefit from energy cost savings.  

We have designed and implemented these approaches to building decarbonization and residential retrofits across the United States. Recently, VEIC designed a strategy for the State of New York to decarbonize buildings in disadvantaged communities. LMI households comprise 40 percent of all households in the state and New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act has targeted 40 percent of its total funding for assistance to such communities. Our approach includes a crucial recommendation that the State adopt a strategy prioritizing social equity and social justice principles in policies and programs.  

The same principles can be successfully applied to the residential retrofit strategies contained in the American Jobs Plan, which targets 40 percent of climate and clean infrastructure investments to disadvantaged communities. The Plan proposes $213 billion for clean-energy retrofits to 2 million homes and buildings in disadvantaged communities.  

As scalable as VEIC’s work decarbonizing LMI communities is, it is also panoramic. Our approach covers: 

  1. Coordinating programs for disadvantaged communities to maximize impacts. 
  2. Using existing financing and funding sources in new ways to support improvements to those communities. 
  3. Changing in regulatory policy to enable more benefits to flow to LMI communities. 
  4. Building capacity in LMI communities.  

Electrifying U.S. school bus fleets. Electrification of just 20 percent of the nation’s school buses—the minimum outlined in the Plan—will cut harmful emissions substantially and directly benefit the health of students, teachers, and bus drivers. Although electric school buses are a relatively new technology, for more than five years, VEIC has been promoting, piloting, and evaluating electric school bus deployment projects in Massachusetts, Vermont, Virginia, Maryland, Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. 

We have found that the keys to successfully scaling up electric school bus deployment are effective planning and technical expertise. Procuring the vehicle models and charging infrastructure that meet the needs of each school district, leading technical training, and identifying nearby maintenance support are all crucial. A successful rollout of an electric school bus project will encourage stakeholders to continue working toward complete fleet electrification.  

Creating green jobs. It’s an old solution that continues to offer outsized, positive impacts on communities: workforce development. We have seen astounding success with our comprehensive green jobs program at the DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU). VEIC, which operates the DCSEU, created a nationally recognized model that brings underemployed and unemployed DC residents onto a career pathway and into green jobs. The DCSEU connects program participants to externships with green economy contractors, for up to five months. Participants receive a DC Living Wage while working with local contractors and organizations. The program boosts the effectiveness of the externships with mentoring and emphasizes the importance of soft-skills training. The investment of time, skill-building, and fair pay makes this program successful. Historically, more than 85 percent of externs have secured full-time positions after completing the program. 

These and the strategies of other clean-energy organizations will provide attractive options for the Biden Administration. We know we’re not alone in being ready to seize the moment. What energy solutions do you foresee scaling up under the American Jobs Plan? Post in the comments below!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 12, 2021

Electrification of just 20 percent of the nation’s school buses—the minimum outlined in the Plan—will cut harmful emissions substantially and directly benefit the health of students, teachers, and bus drivers.

While not the main goal of bus electrification, I'm so interested to see in practice how more prevalent electric school buses many influence the conversation around EVs for families of those children. Will kids talk to their parents about it? Will parents be more likely to buy EVs? 

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on May 12, 2021

Rebecca I agree with you completely. Creating great jobs that help the economy and environment is good for everyone. Jobs in Oil and gas are short sighted. The amount of new jobs that Tesla has created along with the economy is huge and getting bigger all the time. It has encouraged other US companies to start making real Electric Vehicles and advanced batteries. GM is one example of a company investing in this growing area of clean vehicles. EVen the power GRID is getting better and more efficient and reliable with the same new advanced batteries the vehicles use. 

Peter Key's picture
Peter Key on May 13, 2021

I don't know if it was issued in conjunction with the American Jobs Plan, but I assume the efforts to expand and modernize the country's power grids mentioned in this Biden administration fact sheet would create lots of construction jobs at the very least. Much of the transmission construction these efforts are meant to encourage would lead to more development of renewable generation, which would create construction jobs, too.

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