There's one energy policy that both Friends of Coal and tree-huggers can embrace: efficiency.
Eastern Kentucky's building stock is among the leakiest in the country, and our most energy inefficient structures impact those who can least afford it, forcing low-income families to choose between food and their utility bills.
Promoting energy efficiency and building rehabilitations therefore are a win-win-win: saving energy costs for homeowners and small businesses, creating jobs in the high-tech energy rehab industry and protecting the global environment (about a third of all greenhouse gases are produced in building construction and operation).
The Beshear administration has quietly emerged as a leader in promoting energy efficiency, since making it Strategy 1 of the state's first comprehensive energy plan in 2009. Kentucky has established the country's first Green Bank to finance rehabs of state buildings; implemented legislation sponsored by House Majority Leader (and Appalachian native) Rocky Adkins to establish aggressive high performance building standards for new construction of public buildings; ramped up energy efficiency initiatives in K-12 public education, including the nation's first net-zero emissions school in Bowling Green, and dramatically expanded the federal weatherization program, funded by the Obama stimulus, benefitting the state's poorest homeowners.
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The SOAR summit would be wise to embrace energy efficiency as both a job-creation and citizen-empowerment platform. And they need not look far for positive reinforcement: "Rebuilding West Liberty," an initiative launched by the citizens of that community after their downtown was virtually destroyed by a March 2012 tornado, has placed priority on reconstructing energy efficient residences, utilizing groundbreaking strategies to bring the region highly efficient, affordable housing — a vision that was recently recognized by the Clinton Global Initiative.
Further, SOAR should support a growing grassroots and grass-tops movement that's aiming to pass state legislation to bring Energy Property Assessment Districts to Kentucky. This program, already authorized in 30 other states (and often referred to as PACE), enables residential and commercial property owners to pay for energy efficiency upgrades with no cost to Kentucky taxpayers. Financing is secured from local government and is repaid by participating property owners with an assessment on their property tax bill over a term of up to 20 years.
Finally, local officials at the summit should take a look at their own buildings and join the national trend to use municipal bonds to finance energy efficiency improvements of their courthouses, public building stock and water and wastewater systems. With interest rates at historic lows, these job-creating rehabs are quickly paid through energy savings and, in the not-so-long-term, save taxpayers considerable dollars through cheaper city utility bills.