Governor Beebe’s weekly column and radio address: Saving Arkansas Money and Energy

February 25, 2009 – (RealEstateRama) — As we work to determine the total share Arkansas will receive from the federal economic stimulus bill, one thing is certain – this is an historic opportunity to establish lasting benefits for the people of our State. While the stimulus package is precipitated by the difficult times we are all facing, if used wisely, these one-time funds can be leveraged to create a positive impact for years to come.

As President Bill Clinton suggested in his address to the Arkansas General Assembly this past week, the key to success is in finding innovative ways to spend the money, so that we can maximize its benefit to the State, while creating much-needed jobs in the immediate future. One program the former President mentioned that fits this urgent description is the retrofitting of public buildings for greater energy efficiency and greater cost savings to taxpayers.

Improving the energy efficiency of our buildings not only makes good sense for our environment’s sake, but most importantly, it makes sound business sense and is good for our financial bottom line. Estimates put the cost savings of buildings that have been maximized for energy performance at anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of their overall utility expenses. So, consider this: in the last fiscal year, Arkansas state government spent nearly $110 million in utility bills alone for public buildings. Even if we were to save a conservative 20 percent on these energy bills, it would equate to more than $20 million in Arkansas taxpayer dollars saved each year.

This is where the stimulus plan comes into play. We are already studying a program to establish a revolving-loan fund, which would help finance the capital expenditures needed to begin retrofitting state government buildings in Arkansas. While only a small investment of state general-improvement money could get the program off the ground, bolstering it with a portion of the federal stimulus funds could broaden its reach and ensure real staying power. Texas has seen great success with a similar investment, where a one-time investment of $98 million created their LoanSTAR program, which has reaped more than $210 million since its inception in cumulative energy savings for our neighboring taxpayers.

Creating such a program would certainly advance the goals of the stimulus, because it could put more Arkansans to work right away. New energy raters would be trained, manufacturers would benefit, and builders and construction contractors would refocus on retrofitting projects. And while it’s not the flashiest of ideas, this step toward lowering our greenhouse gas emissions and slowing global warming does not have to be a design for the next generation. We can do all of this right now, and we can save money and create jobs in the process.

The solution to climate change isn’t far off in the future; it’s in the buildings in which we live and work each day. What could start with retrofitting for greater efficiency in our state government buildings could create a model for the rest of the nation and expand to the schools where our children spend their days, the museums we enjoy, our universities, and other public buildings.

Energy efficiency isn’t just an environmental issue; it also has immense national security implications, as we lessen our dependence on foreign oil. But its greatest positive effect might be felt in the pocketbooks of our citizens. In the midst of a dire economic climate, a building retrofit program could save millions for Arkansas taxpayers, while also supporting an entirely new industry of so-called “green-collar” jobs.

If the test before us is maximizing the forthcoming stimulus money, I can think of few answers that could simultaneously further so many of our long-term goals for Arkansas and the nation. Let’s work together to meet the challenges we face today and build a stronger and more financially solvent future for Arkansas at the same time.

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