New Facility Brings Green Jobs to Chicago

Looking for signs of hope amid the grim unemployment statistics? Wondering where and when those green jobs will start paying green wages?

There's good news just outside your window.

Last December, hundreds in Chicago lost jobs when Republic Windows and Doors closed their factory. Thanks in part to the stimulus package, the facility will be reopened by a company called Serious Materials, which hopes to hire as many or more workers to produce seriously efficient windows. Homes and businesses that use them could save up to 50 percent on their heating and cooling bills, while also pocketing up to $1500 thanks to new tax credits.

So let's review. New jobs in Chicago. Products that save homeowners and businesses money on their energy bills. An ongoing reduction in air and global warming pollution from coal plants because of smarter electricity use. I think that's worth at least three cheers.

President Obama cited Serious Materials as an example of how we can rebuild our economy on a stronger foundation for future economic prosperity with a focus on energy efficiency -- using the energy we are already producing in much smarter ways and wasting far less.

Not surprisingly, the "Drill Baby Drill" crowd continues to belittle the promise of a clean-energy future as they fight for the expansion of dirty and antiquated technologies that rely on coal and oil.

Important steps are being taken in the Midwest to harness the economic and environmental benefits of energy efficiency. Under a law passed in Michigan last year, electric utilities are offering their customers aggressive energy-saving programs. Detroit Edison plans to spend $127 million over three years to save 6.6 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, which will save the company and its customers $489 million. For every dollar invested in energy efficiency, the company and its customers will save $3.85. That's a bargain we can't afford to pass up.

A similar statute was passed here, but Illinois can do more. In Springfield, lawmakers should adopt updated building codes to ensure that new homes and office buildings are built with better insulation, windows and furnaces. The Illinois House just passed new building code legislation, authored by Rep. Julie Hamos (D-Evanston), for residential construction, with the support of Illinois home builders. The Senate should follow.

Illinois lawmakers should expand the energy-efficiency standards that already apply to our electric utilities to include natural gas utilities. New legislation authored by Rep. Harry Osterman (D-Chicago) would do just that. The savings would be substantial because customers would need less gas to keep their homes and businesses warm in the winter.

These measures will lead to direct job creation as workers make and install energy-saving insulation, windows, furnaces, air conditioners and other measures. The money we all save on energy could be pumped back into the local economy. A market signal has been sounded, and Serious Materials is just the start. More jobs will come to the area as the money from stimulus packages and the new federal omnibus make their way into the economy to weatherize homes, develop renewable energy, and build a 21st century transportation system -- and these jobs can never be exported. We can regain control over our energy future, create millions of new jobs and avoid the worst effects of global warming -- all while putting a few more bucks in your wallet.

The clean-energy economy is here. Just look out your window.


This originally appeared as an Op-Ed in the Chicago Sun-Times April 25, 2009.