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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  September 2005

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE September 2005

Subject:

Getting Apollo off the Ground--San Francisco Community Power

From:

Wren Osborn <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 23 Sep 2005 21:09:47 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (98 lines)

http://www.enn.com/today.html?id=8878

Getting Apollo off the Ground -- A Guest Commentary

September 23, 2005 — By Steven J. Moss, San Francisco Community Power

Energy and labor are intimately related. After all, energy is by and 
large a replacement for labor – most energy-using devices save time. 
Washing machines replaced stone-slapping methods of clothes cleaning; 
cars substitute for slower modes of manual transport. This historical 
relationship has recently formed the basis for a counter-movement lead 
by labor unions and environmental groups – the Apollo Alliance. Apollo 
seeks to change the energy-labor relationship into one in which cleaner 
energy sources create jobs, rather than eliminates them.

So far Apollo has been closer to a delayed space shuttle launch than a 
successful trip to the moon. While energy efficiency, solar power, and 
“demand-response” have made steady gains in state and federal energy 
policies, the linkage between energy and economic development hasn’t. 
Still, despite the lack of policy reform, there’s ample evidence that 
well-crafted community-based energy management programs can provide 
multiple benefits, including reduced polluting air emissions, job 
creation, and economic development.

San Francisco Community Power is one example of how energy and 
employment can be successfully linked, as well as the challenges of 
doing so. SF Power was originally funded by power plant mitigation 
monies. The organization trained unemployed residents of San Francisco 
neighborhoods where aging power plants are located to install energy 
saving equipment at low income households and small businesses. The 
work itself was not particularly complicated – literally screwing in 
compact fluorescent light bulbs or installing motion sensors – but it 
required patience, care, and “handyman” level competence.

Virtually every worker hired by SF Power had “issues,” before and after 
their training. The training itself was the first time some of them had 
been in an adult classroom setting, and many did not have study skills, 
or even know how to behave respectfully towards the teachers or one 
another. Most of them, including the women, had their wages garnished 
for back child care liabilities, reducing their incentive to work. And 
throughout their employment work-disrupting situations emerged for all 
of them. Girlfriends or family members got sick, and had to be taken 
care of; cars broke down or were stolen entirely; addictions 
re-emerged, with individuals simply disappearing for days, weeks, or 
forever.

Still, and without the full-range of social support resources typical 
of many back-to-work programs, the job got done. Thousands of 
households or businesses were provided with devices that tangibly 
reduced their energy bills, as well as lessened reliance on the locally 
polluting power plants. Less money for utility bills meant more dollars 
in consumers and businesses pockets, with concomitant benefits to the 
local economy, including, undoubtedly, more job creation. And every 
person employed in the program expressed pride in their work to help 
improve their community’s environment. The outcome was precisely what 
the Apollo Alliance wants to achieve.

When the mitigation monies, which were administrated by the City and 
County of San Francisco, ran out, SF Power successfully turned to the 
local utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, for funding support. A 
version of the program continued, including relying on community 
residents to do the work. But PG&E, as governed by the California 
Public Utility Commission, did not have the same interest in bundling 
energy saving efforts with job creation and economic development. The 
utility’s direction from its regulators was to obtain cost-effective 
energy savings as soon as possible. As a result, it had less patience 
for the slower work pace caused by newly refurbished workers, and no 
funding for the extra staff time required to make community residents 
workforce-ready. It was difficult to get the resources necessary, or 
even obtain access, to support training opportunities.

Still again, the PG&E-funded program has proved successful, employing 
two-dozen community members and cumulatively serving close to fifteen 
thousand homes and businesses cost-effectively. But the need to wage a 
“permanent war” to attract, train, manage, and replace low income 
workers has taken its toil on SF Power. It’s not clear, four years 
after its launch that this type of effort can effectively compete 
against private sector companies whose only motivation is the bottom 
line, and who are willing to hire fewer individuals from outside the 
community being served to do more work at lower pay.

And that’s why Apollo needs to get off the ground. While utility 
ratepayers may not have an interest in job creation, environmental 
justice, or even economic development, society does. And it just so 
happens that society members and ratepayers are one and the same. 
Energy regulators -- as well as other one-issue government agencies, 
for that matter – should abandon their single-minded focus on achieving 
a solitary goal. Instead we should use our scarce resources to get as 
many “two-fers” as possible. A dollar spent buying someone a light bulb 
will get some energy savings. Spending a dollar and a “bit” having that 
same bulb screwed in by a rehabilitated worker who lives in the 
neighborhood will not only save energy, it will create it as well: 
previously under-utilized human energy.

Steven Moss is the publisher of the Neighborhood Environmental 
Newswire. He serves as Executive Director of San Francisco Community 
Power, www.sfpower.org.

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