By Terrah Baker
Clarity came to local, independent architect and energy legislation advocate Mikel Lolley after conducting experiments on his own investment property. Why were contractors still building the same old leaky boxes? Why aren’t more people making an initial investment that will save them thousands of dollars over several years? And why couldn’t everyone see that implementing green technologies means putting America back to work?
Like many independent contractors, Lolley rode the economic wave of the early 2000s, designing banks around the country. When 2008 hit, the wave came crashing down carrying everyone down with it.
“Overnight I became a self-appointed spokesperson for my professional family. My message was … if you wanted to stimulate the overall economy, you’d want to stimulate the sector that was most adversely affected so it’s not dragging everyone else down,” Lolley explained.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that unemployment hit around 12 percent for the construction industry in 2008, and topped out at over 27 percent in late 2010, early 2011. The highest average unemployment rate for all industries within the U.S. was around 10 percent.
Most economists didn’t project new construction to ramp back up for a decade, so Lolley had to ask himself what would put this portion of the country’s labor force back to work. Especially since after manufacturing, transporting, and assembling, construction accounts for an average of 4.6 percent of the countries Gross Domestic Product, and value-added contribution was more than $562 billion by the industry in 2007, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Lolley began implementing real-world energy efficiency changes into his investment properties around 1998 — like adding foam insulation to the walls, double-pane windows for natural light and converted all natural gas to electric — to measure the affects of the upgrades over a period of time.
“They were wildly successful. I asked myself ‘why aren’t more people doing this? … We could refine what we build through energy efficiency and retrofits on existing buildings to help the asphalt and concrete guys, the HVAC subcontractors, the appliance guys, etc., and can save thousands, ” Lolley said.
He took his knowledge with him on his crusade to support Governor Mike Beebe in enacting energy legislation that would encourage those sectors to make the initial financial investment.
Beebe says he supports comprehensive energy legislation, and has held stakeholder meetings to discuss the issues, as well as released 10 recommendations he feels should be in an energy bill. Local advocates from the Green Economy Group and others say they’re happy with the list, and are working to support Beebe in his efforts through letters and attending stakeholder meetings.
Sustainability Strategist Joanna Pollock with the Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas feels the state has an opportunity to change our current path in a way that can solve many economic issues.
“With the state energy plan we have a chance to pass comprehensive legislation that would allow energy efficiency and renewable energy to take a stronghold in our energy portfolio for the state. That’s really phenomenal because energy issues are economic, ecological and they’re certainly social justice issues,” Pollock said to a group of the Arkansas Citizens First Congress last week at the home of Joyce Hale.
Her office reports that the advanced energy sector — including hydropower, natural gas, solar, bioenergy, geothermal and wind — grew faster than the overall Arkansas economy in the last decade.
These are sectors that are providing training opportunities at places like the Green Collar Workforce Center in Northwest Arkansas, as well as job and investment opportunities. But one of the best benefits and incentives for Beebe to enact energy legislation is the money that would be kept in the state and in Arkansans’ pockets, Lolley said.
“Once your energy efficiency measures have been met, you’re working with retained wealth. You’re improving the bottom line of every household who has seen these improvements. They’ll spend that extra money in the local economies, the kids college fund, what they want to as opposed to being exported out of state to pay for the rising cost of energy.”
Economists agree. While Lolley calls basic home improvements the foundation of the pyramid, economists at the Environmental and Energy Study Institute call it the “low hanging fruit.” They report that investments in energy efficiency saved the U.S. an estimated $19.4 billion in 2004 alone. Skip Laitner, Director of Economic and Social Analysis for the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy said that energy efficiency has an average annual return of 25 percent.
Lolley’s improvements to his home on South Hill Avenue in Fayetteville have saved him almost $40,000 in 10 years compared with a neighbor’s high quality home with similar square footage.
The great thing, Lolley said, is you don’t have to be an expert on energy legislation to help support it. Just contact your congressman, senators and even the governor to let them know you support the future ten recommendations that support the energy efficiency of Arkansas and its citizens.
Several meetings will be held to discuss the legislation and its enactment, where interested individuals can sign a letter to the governor: OMNI 350 on Sun., Nov. 4, and the Citizens First Congress NWA Caucus on Tues. Nov. 13. Contact Keaton Smith for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.