Access to Credit A Top Voter Concern, According to AIA Voter Survey

AIAOn the eve of the State of the Union address, almost two-thirds of Americans want President Obama and the 112th Congress to require banks and financial institutions to make it easier for businesses to get loans to finance expansion, invest in equipment and create jobs, according to the recently-released American Institute of Architects annual survey of voter attitudes.

The survey’s key findings include:

  • Americans have a continuing misconception about the top causes of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the AIA voter survey, more than a third of voters – 36 percent – identify cars and trucks as being primarily responsible for warming the planet. Only four percent think buildings are the primary cause. In reality, the Department of Energy estimates that commercial buildings account for roughly 40 percent of total energy use and almost 70 percent of all electricity consumed in the United States.
  • Despite the pressures on incomes from a weak economy, Americans still support “green” building and design – even if it costs more. For example, three-quarters of Americans surveyed by the AIA say they would pay an additional five to 10 percent more to build, buy or renovate a house that would use less energy and protect the environment through “green” building methods. Almost two thirds – 64 percent – say they would pay as much as $10,000 more for such a dwelling.
  • While government spending continues to be a major concern of voters, an overwhelming percentage – 80 percent – support government spending on public construction projects that incorporate good design – even if they cost more money and take more time to complete.
  • More Americans than two years ago now see architects playing a major role in making communities safe, healthy, energy efficient and friendly to the environment. According to the AIA survey, 51 percent of Americans see architects as a major force in sustainable community design, up from 47 percent in January 2009.

“Voter attitudes on environmental issues have clearly shifted in the last few years as a result of the economic downturn,” said Ron Faucheux, president of the nonpartisan Clarus Research Group of Washington, D.C., which conducted the survey for the AIA. “But voters continue to express substantial support for green buildings, especially if they can see how sustainable design can save energy and money.”

Clarus Research conducted the survey December 5-9, 2010, of 1,000 registered voters, with a sampling error of 3.1 percent. Interviewing was conducted by live telephone interviewers.

A full copy of the survey can be found on the AIA website.

Total Construction Spending Up 0.4%, But Private Spending Down

Total construction spending edged up 0.4 percent between July and August to $812 billion, driven by increases in public construction activity including stimulus and base realignment projects, according to an analysis of new Census Bureau data released today by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials cautioned, however, that private residential and nonresidential spending both continued to shrink as private-sector demand for construction remains extremely weak.

“Federal investments from the stimulus and other programs are protecting some construction workers from a devastating downturn in private construction activity,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “But the industry will continue to be at risk of greater economic hardships as long as private demand for construction continues to shrink.” Private residential construction dropped 1.7 percent during the past year while private nonresidential spending dropped 24 percent, Simonson noted.

The economist added that all 11 categories of private nonresidential construction in the Census Bureau’s press release had declined from a year earlier, most by double-digit percentages. Even private power construction, which was doing well earlier this year, fell 2.9 percent from July in seasonally adjusted terms and 15.5 percent year-over-year. Simonson added that single-family construction is up 4.2 percent year-over-year but has been dropping since April, and that multi-family construction is down a “devastating” 52 percent over the past 12 months.

While public construction spending increased by 2.5 percent between July and August, it is still down 1.0 percent from August 2009 to August 2010, driven largely by declines in state and local tax revenue, Simonson noted. Stimulus funds appear to have lifted public housing (up 33 percent from August 2009 to August 2010), sewage and waste disposal (up 19 percent), water supply construction (up 5.2 percent) and highway and street construction (up 0.9 percent), Simonson observed. Reconstruction work around New Orleans helped conservation spending rise 18 percent, the economist also suggested.

In contrast, public educational construction, which is almost entirely funded from state and local revenues, slumped 13 percent. Stephen Sandherr, chief executive officer of the construction association, said the new spending data show that stimulus funds for construction have been turning into projects at an increasing rate. But he cautioned that temporary investment measures like the stimulus were likely to expire before private sector investments increase. “Without action soon on long-term infrastructure programs like the highway and transit bill, our industry faces the severe risk of tumbling into another downturn,” Sandherr said.

DOE parts with some cash

Finally! U.S. Dept. of Energy (Washington) secretary Steven Chu announced Thursday that more than $106 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is being awarded to nine states to support energy efficiency and conservation activities. Under DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program, these states will implement programs that cut energy use, reduce carbon pollution, and create green jobs locally.
   “This funding will allow states across the country to make major investments in energy solutions that will strengthen America’s economy and create jobs at the local level,” said Chu. “It will also promote some of the cheapest, cleanest, and most reliable energy technologies we have—energy efficiency and conservation—which can be deployed immediately. Local communities can now make strategic investments to help meet the nation’s long-term clean energy and climate goals.”
   States receiving immediate funding are Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Indiana, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia.
   These awards to the state energy offices will be used to support state-level energy efficiency priorities, along with funding local conservation projects in smaller cities and counties. At least 60% of each state’s award will be passed through to local cities and counties not eligible for direct EECBG awards.
   Projects eligible for support include developing an energy efficiency and conservation strategy, conducting energy-efficiency audits and retrofits, improving transportation programs, creating financial-incentive programs for energy efficiency improvements, developing and implementing advanced building codes and inspections, and installing renewable-energy technologies on municipal buildings.
   For a full list of awards to date, visit—Gary L. Parr

DOE Retrofit Ramp-Up program going fishing

Maybe it’s my cynical mood today, but the recently announced $454 million DOE Retrofit Ramp-Up program, even though it’s in its information-gathering phase, seems to be little more than a fishing expedition. The program is described as being designed to “catalyze a nationwide upgrade that experts estimate could save $100 million annually in utility bills for households and businesses.” That part sounds good. What makes me wonder how well thought out this effort is are vague phrases such as the “program will pioneer innovative models for rolling out energy efficiency,” and “will support large-scale models that can open new energy efficiency opportunities to whole neighborhoods, towns, and, eventually, entire states.”
   The announcement is, technically, a Request for Information, designed to generate ideas/feedback for how to spend this money. The announcement was made on Sept. 14 and the feedback period ends Sept. 28. In that timeframe, if you want to provide legitimate input, you either have to already have a plan cooked up or be willing to burn a lot of midnight oil.
   According to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, “The aim of the ‘Retrofit Ramp-Up’ program is to jump-start an industry that makes energy efficiency savings easy to access and available to everyone. By encouraging partnerships between local governments and effective private enterprises, we hope tune-ups for buildings will become as accepted as tune-ups for cars.”
   We’ll see. Sounds to me more like putting $454 million worth of baited hooks in the water and hoping we hook something bigger than a bluegill.—Gary L. Parr

McKinsey report: Invest $50 billion, save $1.2 trillion

A recently released McKinsey report (McKinsey & Co., Washington), sponsored by USGBC, Washington, and several other organizations, indicates that investing $50 billion in the energy efficiency of buildings and other non-transportation initiatives throughout the next 10 years could reduce the nation’s energy consumption by 23% by 2020, save the U.S. economy $1.2 trillion, and reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 1.1 gigatons. This level of investment is also projected to generate 900,000 jobs.
   “This confirms a critical path forward that we have long championed. Harnessing the engine of green, energy-efficient buildings can cost-effectively drive tremendous improvements in our economy and environment,” said Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chairman of USGBC. “Green building can stimulate the economy at a level one and a half times larger than the federal stimulus bill. In terms of climate change, a commitment to energy efficiency would be the equivalent of taking the entire U.S. fleet of passenger cars and light trucks—more than 200-million vehicles—off the road.”
The energy efficiency potential cited in the report is divided across three sectors of the U.S. economy:

  • industrial, 40% of the end-use energy efficiency potential
  • residential, 35%
  • commercial, 25%.

The report calls for an integrated national plan guided by five principles:

  • Recognize energy efficiency as an important energy resource that can help meet future energy needs, while the nation simultaneously develops new no- and low-carbon energy sources.
  • Formulate and launch, at both the national and regional levels, an integrated portfolio of proven, piloted, and emerging approaches.
  • Identify methods to provide the significant upfront funding.
  • Forge greater alignment among utilities, regulators, government agencies, manufacturers, and energy consumers.
  • Foster innovation in the development and deployment of next-generation, energy-efficiency technologies to ensure continuing productivity gains.

To download the report, click here.—Gary L. Parr