- Millions of energy-inefficient homes.
- Billions of federal dollars available for weatherization.
- Meanwhile, Racine's unemployment rate is 15%.
At a press conference at the Marquette Avenue home of Racine's First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program, Mason, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Racine Mayor John Dickert, John Schmitt, business manager of Local 113, and Department of Energy weatherization official Gil Sperling all sang the same lyrics: The Wisconsin Sustainable Jobs Act that Mason has introduced will provide a framework for weatherizing Wisconsin homes while ensuring that the work goes to newly trained, needy, local workers.
With billions of federal funds available -- Wisconsin expects to receive hundreds of millions and 1.9 million Wisconsin homes would benefit from weatherization -- the number of jobs this could create is substantial, perhaps 6,000. Each newly-weatherized home is estimated to save $460 a year in utility bills.
There is, of course, a catch: It costs about $6,500 to weatherize a home, "and most people don't have $6,500 lying around," as Mason noted. That's where his bill comes in: it would provide no-interest or low-interest loans up to that amount to be spent on weatherization -- "That's what's different and new here." -- with the money to be repaid over time, a little each year added to the homeowner's property tax bill.
There are also requirements aimed at the contractors who do the work -- they must hire local workers, with at least 30 percent coming from the low-income pool, pay them prevailing wages, and they must provide training for them. "Without the training and local-hire provisions," said Mason, "it's a free-for-all."
Thus the three dots are connected. And along with environmental sustainability the revolving loan fund will allow the program to be sustainable over time, Mason said.
Dickert and Barrett -- the latter a Democratic candidate for governor -- seconded his remarks. Dickert noted that Racine took some stimulus dollars and used them to buy LED street lights from RUUD Lighting of Racine, and then hired local IBEW workers to install them., Barrett endorsed the program for both its efficiencies and job goals, but also because "there are no oil wells or coal mines in Wisconsin" and sending energy dollars out of state sends them "to countries that can't stand us."
Mason's bill also allows utilities to use private funds for weatherization, lending the costs to businesses and homeowners, while putting repayment on their utility bills. So far, the bill has two co-sponsors, Democrats James Soletski of Green Bay and Ted Zigmunt of Manitowoc.
Sperling of the Dept. of Energy said "there is nothing more important that we can do than putting people back to work. This will be the largest economic development program the City of Racine has ever seen." He noted that $11.6 billion is available in weatherization and state block grants, but said "trillions and trillions of dollars are needed to make this transformation happen. This will leverage what the private sector does."
Ola Baiyewu, executive director of the Human Capital Development Corp., which runs the First Choice training program, said 127 enrolled and 80 completed the program last year -- with 30 of them finding full-time construction jobs. "That's like full employment in this city," he said, ruefully. The six-week training program is supported by the city, SC Johnson, the United Way, the Racine Community Foundation and the Racine Dominicans. It's been running since 2005, said Baiyewu. "I saw a need for women and minorities to be represented in the building trades." Six of those graduates with construction jobs are women.
While some recent graduates of the training program showed how insulation would be installed in an attic, left, Baiewu said he looked forward to the jobs weatherization funds would provide. "We're not going to train people for non-existent work," he said.
One of those his graduates present for the press conference was Anna Fell, 34, a laborer with Walsh Construction working on the North-South I-94 corridor reconstruction. A former school bus driver who also worked for a company now out of business, Fell says she earns about $20 an hour and is grateful for her training. "You need to learn everything you possibly can, so when the union hall calls with a job you're set to go." She hopes to become a heavy equipment operator.