Sunday, November 23rd, 2014
Half-True
Barnes
"I can put 10,000 people to work. Electricians, plumbers, sheet metal workers -- by retrofitting all of the state buildings for energy independence or efficiency."

Roy Barnes on Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010 in a campaign ad

Barnes ad claims he can put 10,000 people to work through energy program

Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes says he can put 10,000 people to work by retrofitting all state buildings

It is one of the most striking claims of this campaign season.

Roy Barnes, former Georgia governor who is hoping to return to the Governor's Mansion in January, said in a televised campaign ad he can put 10,000 people to work.

How?

"By retrofitting each state building to make them more energy-efficient," he said in the ad, which premiered June 23.

"The best part is," Barnes added, "the energy savings will pay for the improvements."

Ten thousand jobs is a pretty hefty claim in this sluggish economy, particularly when the state's unemployment rate is 9.9 percent, slightly above the national average of 9.5 percent.

So how did Barnes come up with this estimate? Is it accurate? And how soon could it be accomplished?

The Barnes campaign said it based its estimate of how many jobs can be created on two findings in two separate reports.

One, by the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, suggests the state can create up to 5,000 new jobs. About 6,000 people already employed would also see the benefits by working on retrofitting state buildings. The other is a 2008 study by the Political Economy Research Institute, which describes itself as an independent unit of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The report estimates about 20 jobs can be generated for each $1 million spent on energy-efficiency efforts.

Dennis Creech, executive director of Southface, an Atlanta-based company that works with government agencies and others to promote sustainable workplaces, has seen similar estimates of how many jobs can be generated by retrofitting a building.

By the PERI calculation, Barnes must spend about $500 million to achieve his goal of putting 10,000 people to work. The GEFA estimate would require a $528 million investment. But is that doable? 

Georgia government has suffered financially in recent years. State leaders passed a $17.8 billion budget in April that took effect July 1. The budget was about $3 billion less than the 12-month spending plan adopted three years ago. State agencies saw across-the-board cuts.

GEFA based its $528 million estimate on financing projects over the span of 15 years.

Apparently, Barnes has joined the parade of people supporting the latest hot idea in government: performance contracting. It's the practice of hiring companies to retrofit a building to make it more energy-efficient, saving money on energy bill and water costs. The company typically gets a cut of the money from the energy savings. Many states and cities have entered into performance contracting with companies to produce energy savings. Georgians will vote on Nov. 2 whether to amend the state constitution to allow state agencies to enter into multiyear contracts with companies to improve energy efficiency in state buildings.

The state of Georgia has 15,757 buildings, ranging from storage buildings to park cabins to state office buildings to the Capitol, according to Katy Pando, spokeswoman for the Georgia Building Authority.

"I think it's the right number," said Jason Rooks, an Avondale Estates resident who recently formed a group, Taxpayers for Energy Efficiency, to support a referendum later this year to fund retrofitting projects.

Each state agency is responsible for conducting building assessments and potential cost savings opportunities for any renovation projects, Pando said.

Many of Georgia's buildings are old and not energy-efficient, said state Sen. Steve Henson, a DeKalb County Democrat. Gov. Sonny Perdue committed all state agencies to reduce energy consumption per square foot by 15 percent below 2007 levels by 2020. State officials estimate they can save as much as 30 percent on energy and water costs by retrofitting a building.

Henson, one of the co-sponsors of legislation to propose a referendum, said the companies would be paid for the retrofitting through a portion of energy cost savings. If there are no cost savings, Henson said, the company would not get paid. Barnes campaign spokesman Emil Runge said the candidate would fund the work through the cost savings.

Henson said 10,000 jobs could be created or retained through the plan, but "not in one year." Henson said the number of workers necessary to do the work depends on how much time it takes for the companies to perform the retrofitting and the willingness of state government to fund the program.

GEFA estimates the state spends about $225 million annually in energy and water costs in state facilities. A 30 percent cost savings would be about $67.5 million. Perdue's 15 percent energy reduction consumption mandate would be about $34 million a year.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hailed performance contracting in a 2008 report but warned of some potential pitfalls, such as the complexities of the process to hire contractors. The EPA also noted some early contracts did not deliver the expected results, which created some skepticism. The EPA added that some of the skepticism has declined with familiarity of state needs and procedures.

Robert Pollin, who helped write the PERI report, said he and the other researchers used federal government data that outline how businesses operate. From that data, Pollin determined how many jobs can be created, retained or supported through the retrofitting of state buildings.

Some who have analyzed the PERI report contend there is at least one flaw in the research. The Institute for Energy Research noted the unemployment rate for workers with the skills needed to do retrofitting is one-half of the national average. The institute, which has offices in Washington, D.C., and Houston, concluded there will be fewer unemployed workers hired.

No one we spoke with disputed whether 10,000 people could be put to work by retrofitting state buildings. The research by agencies on this topic shows these positions would be new hires and people who would directly benefit from the work. By Barnes saying he could put "10,000 people to work," we believe he gave the impression that all of these workers would be new hires. Some of those 10,000 would already be employed. The positions could be filled, but as Henson noted, the work will require some political will that will be necessary after the end of a potential Barnes administration.

Barnes' statement is accurate, but it leaves out important details that might lead to a different impression. We rate his claim as Half True.