Energizing America: Setting a Freshmen Agenda for Progress

At Netroots Nation, six dedicated people joined to discuss Energizing America:  Setting an Agenda for Progress.  On this panel were three core members of the Energize America team and three Energy Smart candidates who are part of the effort to change the composition of Congress toward one more knowledgeable and concerned about creating a sensible energy future.

Part of the discussion was how to provide a rallying point for the freshmen (and women) class of 2009, to join together for passage a set of legislative initiatives to help spark an Energy Smart renaissance across the United States.

This effort is developing.  

But, this development is missing something.


Join me, after the fold, for a discussion of concepts and ideas as to moving forward together.

A note before embarking:  Let us be clear. While this is being worked and discussed with a number of campaigns, the concept of a package of energy smart initiatives for candidates to coalesce behind and introduce come January 2009 remains a concept proposal and there are no candidates signed up to endorse it.  And, it remains a draft set of ideas: open to and welcoming comments, suggestions, criticisms, ridicule, and maybe even some praise.

Principles and Assumptions

This effort is built around a core set of principles and assumptions.

  • The proposed programs should have wide-spread impact, preferably in all 50 states.
  • The programs should work with public-private, federal-state-local partnerships.
  • The programs should make financial sense for the nation, while improving our energy and environmental situations.
  • The ideas should improve capacity (broadly defined), creating the possibility for cascading impacts, to help spark change across the nation.
  • These initiatives should, as part of capacity building, provide paths to improve understanding of and education about energy issues throughout the United States.
  • The package is not intended as a comprehensive energy package, to supplant or undermine Acts already under consideration within Congress.  They are complementary to concepts being proposed by campaigns and Acts being worked on within Congress.
  • The elements should begin to show tangible results within two years
  • A single freshman member of either the House or Senate has limited ability to drive through a policy initiative. A group, committed to a set of actions, has a greater chance of seeing a clearly defined program enacted. And, with this in mind, the total package is limited to $3 billion per year.

A Proposed Package for 2009

With those principles and assumptions in mind, the following are six proposed ideas to be combined into a package for the 2009 Freshman class.

Energy Smart Communities Act (ESCA)

This would see the realization of a concept developed with the original Energize America 20-point plan of 2006 that was further developed and worked on with members of Congress in 2007.

The ESCA would require $1.1 billion in funding each year to spark energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in local government infrastructure.  The Federal Government would provide a ten percent match to all bond efforts focused on energy efficiency and renewable energy. (Thus, $10 billion in bonds with $1 billion USG matching. Ten years to help spark $110 billion in local and state government investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy.) The additional funding would enable the Federal Government to provide State and Local Governments energy audit and program planning expertise support.  In addition, the Federal government would provide support in structuring/writing/negotiating bond terms. The basic target:  the energy savings would be greater than the costs of repaying the bond, thus leading to a financial savings for the local community.  In addition, these efforts within local government buildings would help develop the capacity (from building inspectors to solar hot water installers to code writers) for local businesses and individual citizens to be able to pursue energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

Green the Schools

This element would supplement the recently passed House 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act .  The FESA Green the Schools Act would provide $500 million / year additionally to

1. $200 million to enable 100% of new school construction to meet Energy Star / LEED Silver standards (at a minimum);

2. $200 million to spark achievement of Energy Star + / LEED Gold or Platinum in additional school construction;

3. $50 million a year to fund student data gathering and research in public schools on program impacts/efficiency as well as education in, for example, conducting energy audits.  

4. The act would provide $25 million per year in scholarship awards to students engaged in these efforts.  This would help foster student engagement in the projects while also provide assistance to the education of future generations of energy smart Americans.

5. And $25 million would be available for standards development, lessons identified, and for educating school boards, school administrators about greening efforts, the financial and other benefits from greening the schools.  (Every single element merits further discussion, but a moment of explanation. One of the hidden obstacles to making the making the right choice the easy and preferred choice are bureaucratic and knowledge obstacles, within any organization or even family, as to energy issues. One school community that I am engaged with is hampered because the entire staff responsible for infrastructure issues is resistant to change. As one senior person said recently: “Green is the flavor of the month.  I’ll be happy to stay with already proven flavors. There are techniques that work. Why should we change.”  This money would help provide a substantive basis for the necessary change in culture required to hasten Greening the Schools.)

To be clear, greening school facilities is almost certainly the most cost effective way to improve student performance, with students (and teachers) doing better in healthier schools. And, the energy savings alone will pay for any extra capital costs to ‘green the school’.

Plug-In-Hybrid Electric School Buses

Plug-In Hybrid Electric School Buses (PHESBs) offer a range of benefits, from reduced diesel fuel costs to reducing youth exposure to diesel fume cancer (and other disease causing) pollution to providing mobile generators for emergencies or even local concerts.  Right now, there is a purchase price hurdle that make PHESBs a poor financial decision for school systems facing tight budget environments.  Establishing these on a large-scale, production line that enables learning and economies of scale would drive this differential down to the point where PHESBs would become the preferred option for most school systems. The FESA PHESB Act is intended to provide enough incentive to get PHESB production levels to that point. (NOTE: The Austin Austin Independent School District (AISD) brought a PHESB to Netroots Nation for a morning to rave reviews of everyone who toured it.)

The PHESB Act would provide $60 million / year to spark the PHESB industry and to make PHESBs the standard for school systems.  First year, $35 million for paying up to 50% of cost of PHESB for acquiring school district (40% year 2, 30% year 3, 20% year 4, 10% year 5); $10 million for paying up to 85% of PHESB cost for disadvantaged school districts (maintain this level); $5 million for PHESBs for military bases (for two years; after that for buying PHESBs for prison system and other requirements); $5 million for V2G (vehicle-to-grid) research and deployment assistance specifically focused on school buses.  Note:  No state to receive more than 20% of the funding per year; minimum of 20 states per year in funding.  All 50 states to have PHESBs supported for purchase by year 5.  By the end of the fifth year, if the average assistance is $50k, this program would foster introduction of over 4000 PHESBs and make PHESBs competitive with traditional diesel school buses for purchase decisions.

Energy Smart Education:  

The Energy Smart Eduction (ESA) Act would provide $75 million in funding ($500k per state; $100k per Congressional district) for “eco-efficient” drivers’ education; funding for energy education in public education programs; money for students to study/document energy impacts in their communities; with scholarship programs associated with this.

Energy Smart Rail

The Energy Smart Rail (ESR) Act would seek to spark private industry to invest to transition the US rail system to all electric.  $1 billion / year initiative to spark private investment in electrification of rail system.  (This would make the Federal commitment in the range of 10% of the total cost. Note, for that, reduction of US oil demand by 500,000 or more barrels per day by 2020 … roughly 2.5% of US current demand.) $100 million/year in additional funding for research and development support for using the electrified rail system for a HVDC grid across the country. $50 million in funding for rail energy related research.  

Energy Smart Mail Service

The Energy Smart Mail Service (ESMS) Act would provide $200 million for renewable energy / energy efficiency projects at US post offices throughout the country. ($200k for every Congressional District; $1 million for every state.) For post offices, with displays in the post office lobby. (Solar hot water, solar electric, small wind, geothermal heating/cooling, biomass, white roofs; etc …)   $50 million for USPS EV/PHEV (and V2G).  The purpose is not, per se, to provide the greatest impact per dollar spent but to provide visible and tangible symbols for change at one of the most commonly visited public spaces: the local Post Office.  These sort of examples are a path toward fostering greater knowledge about and thus greater capacity for executing energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.


There is a not minor issue at stake. In a “pay go” environment, where should the funding come from.  For example, should the $100 million going to “abstinence only” sex education be used to fund the Energy Smart Education Act?  

Should improved royalty collection on fossil fuel production from Federal land be used to pay for the entire program?

Should there be explicit funding streams?

Questions / Reactions / Thoughts?

What is right here? What is wrong? Of course, there are missing elements … any glaring errors?

Are the principles and assumptions good ones?  Is this the sort of thing that a coalition of candidates should sign up to, in your opinion?

And, as a reminder, the above is only the briefest of introduction to each of these ideas.



Ask yourself:  Are you doing your part to ENERGIZE AMERICA?

Are you ready  to do your part?

Your voice can … and will make a difference.

So … SPEAK UP … NOW!!!

Speak up here. Get engaged with Energize America.  Help set the path forward for the nation.