A green revolution would offer twofold benefits, Obama says

By Mike Musgrove
Thursday, December 3, 2009; 5:15 PM

President Obama on Thursday highlighted renewable energy and green technology as the nation's "best candidate" for moving away from employment bubbles like the ones that have caused so much havoc on the nation's economy.

In a White House session dedicated to stimulating jobs in those fields, the president pointed to a twofold benefit of convincing Americans to upgrade their homes to be more energy-efficient. Energy-conserving home improvements would ultimately pay for themselves, and a movement towards energy-efficient housing could create jobs in the country right away, Obama asserted. "The challenge here is giving consumers the right incentives," he said.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu kicked off the Thursday session, attended by construction and energy experts from the private sector, with a proposal that "energy auditors" could be sent around the country's neighborhoods, on a block-by-block basis. Such auditors would offer to show homeowners the potential cost benefits if they improve, for example, the insulation in their homes.

"Tens of millions of homes could benefit from retrofits," he said.

Home Depot chief executive Frank Blake seemed skeptical of the idea, on the grounds that most of his customers already understand the benefit of such upgrades. "I'm not sure how the audit would work," he said.

Many panel participants from groups dedicated to wind and solar energy identified access to money and a slow-moving government bureaucracy as some of the main hurdles confronting them.

"The missing component right now is access to capital," said David Lincoln, the founder of an energy-focused venture capital firm.

Leo Gerard, president of United Steelworkers, proposed that the federal government lead the way to an energy-efficient future by retrofitting public buildings and schools to better conserve heat or cooling.

Not only would that create jobs immediately, the labor leader said, but it would also appeal to him as a voter. "If you're retrofitting the school that my daughter goes to, I'm probably going to like you a lot more," he said.

Author Thomas Friedman urged Obama to make a statement by pushing the Secret Service to make his next presidential limousine a hybrid.

The president said that was an idea he'd heard before, but one that would probably be impractical, "as good as hybrid technology is."

"The car I have is a little heavy," the president admitted.

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