Roads and Bridges, Yes. It’s Also Time to Put People to Work Rebuilding Mission Critical Facilities
With millions of unemployed Americans looking for work, and a critical need to modernize our roads, water systems and energy grid, the bipartisan push for rebuilding our infrastructure is an obvious answer to the economic crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Washington works toward developing economic recovery plans in the weeks ahead, leaders should also take a close look at our mission critical facilities, which this pandemic and wildfires, hurricanes, and floods, have shown are in tremendous need of improvement.
One would be hard-pressed to find projects that check more of the boxes justifying stimulus spending than modernizing the facilities that are the backbone of our local communities and keep us safe in times of disaster. Think of police and fire stations, hospitals, emergency shelters, water treatment, schools and military facilities that are too often operating on antiquated systems that are inefficient, unreliable, and expensive to maintain. The digital age offers incredible new technologies that, when paired with more efficient heating and cooling equipment, insulation, appliances, and other products, will improve building operation and lower energy and water utility costs for taxpayers.
We have an opportunity now to put hundreds of thousands of people back to work – in good-paying construction, engineering and manufacturing jobs – to bring these facilities into the 21st Century. Implementing a proposal from the Alliance to Save Energy and others, we can do this work with limited public investment, using federal seed funding to leverage private capital and reaping long-term utility cost savings from energy efficiency improvements and operational upgrades.
What does rebuilding better look like?
It might be a public hospital in Florida upgrading its heating, cooling and ventilation systems, adding controls to optimize energy consumption and improve air quality for patients and their caregivers, at the same time hardening the exterior with high-efficiency storm-resistant windows and roofing and relocating mechanical equipment to the roof to avoid flooding.
It might be comprehensive building improvements at a police station in Ohio to lower the size and cost of energy consumption, combined with renewable generation and storage to ensure reliable backup power in case of grid outages or cyberattacks. These building improvements can be repaid from savings, which are reliable and predictable. The new system even produces revenue for the facility by supplying power and related services to the grid when not needed by the facility.
It might mean retrofitting a community center in California with high-efficiency heating and cooling systems and hardened exteriors, resulting in more comfortable, lower-cost operation during normal use such as recreation or voting. At the same time, enhancements to electrical systems and controls and the inclusion of on-site clean generation and storage allow the center to serve as a temporary medical facility in a crisis. These same improvements provide load flexibility and other grid management services as a matter of course, generating revenue and enhancing overall grid reliability.
All of these projects achieve multiple benefits: creating more resilient buildings to withstand natural disasters; delivering adaptable buildings that can be converted into safe and functional emergency facilities; improving indoor air quality; enhancing power system reliability by optimizing demand and improving flexibility on the grid; and reducing carbon emissions. Did we mention they would also put hundreds of thousands of people to work in local economies across the country?
Much of the work could be paid for through public-private partnerships such as energy savings performance contracts in which state and local governments utilize private companies to modernize facilities and finance the improvements through guaranteed energy cost savings.
If this pandemic and other recent natural disasters have taught us anything, it’s that preparedness matters – a lot. Strong public investment today would both better prepare local communities for future disasters and rejuvenate local economies while leaving the next generation with modern, mission critical public facilities that get the job done more efficiently and effectively.
Andrew McAllister serves on the California Energy Commission. He sits on the board of the Alliance to Save Energy and chairs the board of the National Association of State Energy Officials.