The new session of Congress is poised to pass another stimulus bill, one that will pump hundreds of billions of dollars into the ailing economy. The trick will be getting legislators to agree on who gets the money. Edward Mazria, a Santa Fe architect, says he’s presented the Obama transition team with a proposal that benefits all Americans instead of giving more cash to financiers.
Mazria spent much of December speaking to Washington policy makers and leaders of industry about his 2030 Challenge Stimulus Plan. He says the plan would generate eight million new jobs, put the building industry back to work, save citizens as much as $200 billion in mortgage and energy costs, and drastically cut fossil fuel use and carbon emissions. Mazria believes the stimulus would pay for itself by creating a new tax base. Most importantly, he says it would not waste our tax dollars attempting to restore the same conditions that caused our current problems.
In brief, for three years the plan would use stimulus money to subsidize lower mortgage rates for homeowners if they renovate their houses to use significantly less fossil fuel. Owners of commercial buildings would get short-term tax reductions.
The program includes an example that sounds familiar to many New Mexico homeowners: Suppose you pay about $1,550 monthly on a $272,000 mortgage at 5.55 percent. You can lower the mortgage rate to 3 percent if you improve your house’s energy efficiency to 75 percent above the level required by building codes. The improvements would cost about $41,000. Energy tax credits already in place would pay approximately $7,000 of that cost. The remainder ($34,000) would be added to your mortgage, bringing it to $306,000.
So far, the plan doesn’t sound too appealing, but hang on. At 3 percent, your monthly mortgage payment would be $265 less, and you would save about $145 on your monthly energy bill. As a result, you would gain $4,920 more a year in disposable income, the construction trades would boom, tax revenues would increase, we’d import far less oil and gas, and we would drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
Mazria has promoted energy-efficient building since 1979, when he published The Passive Solar Energy Book. He has promoted energy-efficient building design ever since. Mazria’s 2003 article “It’s the Architecture, Stupid” in Solar Today proposed that the United States is looking at energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gases from the wrong perspective. Traditionally, the energy consumption pie is sliced into categories according to its end users—industry, transportation, residential use and commercial use.
Mazria divides the pie by product instead of user and comes up with three segments: architecture, transportation and industry. Architecture—both building it and operating it—accounts for 48 percent of the nation’s total energy consumption. In effect, the biggest problem is not our SUVs but our air conditioners.
The proposed stimulus plan originated with Mazria’s Architecture 2030, a nonprofit research organization. The name refers to the group’s 2002 strategy for making the nation’s buildings carbon-neutral by 2030. A carbon-neutral building uses various forms of renewable energy to offset any fossil fuel emissions necessary to operate it. The 2030 goal, for which all necessary materials and techniques exist, has gained wide acceptance by municipalities and states, including Albuquerque and the rest of New Mexico. Mazria’s proposed stimulus plan is designed to bridge the gap until the interim goals of the long-term 2030 plan go into effect.
Mazria and Architecture 2030 Director Kristina Kershner have presented the stimulus plan to the Obama transition team. The president-elect has said that projects to be considered for stimulus money must be green, shovel-ready, short-term and job-producing. On paper, Mazria’s plan meets all four requirements, but it faces a staggering amount of competition for a chunk of the trillion-dollar carrot.
We can expect infighting between those promoting traditional infrastructure projects and those promoting the fledgling green economy. A Dec. 29 BusinessWeek article marvels at the “feeding frenzy,” as everyone from Dow Chemical to the Army Corps of Engineers to basement tinkerers tries to snag a slice of the pending green economy pie.
The article quotes Mazria: “It gets people back to work in a way that’s extremely positive,” which may be his proposal’s greatest benefit. While holding new architecture to higher energy standards is necessary, the huge majority of our building stock already exists. Quadrupling the energy efficiency of existing buildings has no apparent downside. It reduces greenhouse gases, shortens commuting routes, saves productive land and trains people for forward-looking jobs.
No plan survives contact with reality in one piece. But even if Mazria’s proposal does only half of what he estimates, it still seems a good bet. You can find out more about the plan at architecture2030.org.