Vancouver started a new program subsidizing solar panel installations
A lot has been written over the last three years about Mayor Gregor Robertson's taxpayer funded green schemes. For the most part, the local media have cut him a lot of slack when it comes to his nebulous mission of making Vancouver the "greenest city" on the planet. They've paid even less attention to the actual outcomes of his various programs.
Since 2008 Mayor Gregor has introduced programs supporting wheat fields on front lawns, subsidized solar panel installations and provided loans to homeowners to retrofit their homes in his quest to go green. All the while he has been receiving a lot of positive press for his efforts.
Despite the fact Vision Vancouver watered down their campaign commitment to create 20,000 green jobs in the city by 2020, they still claim to be committed to stimulating the local economy with their green schemes. Yet there has not been a single update regarding how many real jobs their greenest city plan has actually created - that is besides those funded by taxpayers at City Hall.
Robertson is by no means the only North American mayor preaching green as a means of appealing to his voter base. A couple of hundred kilometers to the south of us they've also begun their own green revolution in Seattle. However, unlike in Vancouver, their local council is getting grilled on some of the more questionable expenditures.
What follows is an article posted in the Seattle PI regarding a program called Community Power Works:
Last year, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced the city had won a coveted $20 million federal grant to invest in weatherization. The unglamorous work of insulating crawl spaces and attics had emerged as a silver bullet in a bleak economy - able to create jobs and shrink carbon footprint - and the announcement came with great fanfare.
McGinn had joined Vice President Joe Biden in the White House to make it. It came on the eve of Earth Day. It had heady goals: creating 2,000 living-wage jobs in Seattle and retrofitting 2,000 homes in poorer neighborhoods.
But more than a year later, Seattle's numbers are lackluster. As of last week, only three homes had been retrofitted and just 14 new jobs have emerged from the program. Many of the jobs are administrative, and not the entry-level pathways once dreamed of for low-income workers. Some people wonder if the original goals are now achievable.
"The jobs haven't surfaced yet," said Michael Woo, director of Got Green, a Seattle community organizing group focused on the environment and social justice.
"It's been a very slow and tedious process. It's almost painful, the number of meetings people have gone to. Those are the people who got jobs. There's been no real investment for the broader public."
The buildings that have gotten financing so far include the Washington Athletic Club and a handful of hospitals, a trend that concerns community advocates who worry the program isn't helping lower-income homeowners.
"Who's benefiting from this program right now - it doesn't square with what the aspiration was," said Howard Greenwich, the policy director of Puget Sound Sage, an economic-justice group. He urged the city to revisit its social-equity goals.
"I think what it boils down to is who's got the money."
Organizers and policy experts blame the economy, bureaucracy and bad timing for the program's mediocre results. Called Community Power Works, the program funds low-interest loans and incentives for buildings to do energy-efficient upgrades. They include hospitals, municipal buildings, big commercial structures and homes.
Half the funds are reserved for financing and engaging homeowners in Central and Southeast Seattle, a historically underserved area. Most of the jobs are expected to come from this sector.
But the timing of the award has led to hurdles in enticing homeowners to bite on retrofits. The city had applied for the grant at a time of eco-giddiness, when former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels was out-greening all other politicians except for Al Gore. Retrofits glowed with promise to boost the economy, reduce consumer bills and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
"A triple win," is how Biden characterized it.
By the time Seattle won the award, homeowners were battered by unemployment and foreclosures. The long-term benefits of energy upgrades lacked the tangible punch of a new countertop. And the high number of unemployed construction workers edged out new weatherization installers for the paltry number of jobs.
"Really, we couldn't have rolled out this program at a worse time," said Greenwich, who had helped write the city's grant proposal.
"The outcomes are very disappointing. I think the city has worked really hard, but no one anticipated just how bad this recession was going to be, and the effect it was going to have on this program."
City feels 'cautiously optimistic'
As of last week, 337 homeowners had applied for the program. Fourteen had gotten a loan, or were in the process of getting one.
"Yes, we're not seeing as many completed retrofits as we wanted to," said Joshua Curtis, the city's manager for Community Power Works. "While everyone would like to see more upgrades, I think we're feeling cautiously optimistic."
He said the residential portion of program didn't launch until April. He said there was a normal summertime lull in work and that he expected things to pick up in the fall. He was confident that the city's marketing campaign and loan partner held promise.
It will be interesting to see if some of Vision Vancouver's more controversial green initiatives end up making their way as a top issue during the upcoming campaign. Based on what I've read so far, I somehow doubt it.
If you want to read an opposing view, you should read a column by Van Jones over at Sightline.org. He has a slightly different perspective than the Seattle PI article.
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