Filler: A bright idea whose time has come

The 349-unit rental complex Avalon Rockville Centre features

The 349-unit rental complex Avalon Rockville Centre features “green” elements such as energy-efficient lighting. The complex received “green” certification from the National Association of Home Builders at a ceremony on July 30, 2012. (Credit: AvalonBay Communities)

Lane Filler

Portrait of Newsday editorial board member Lane Filler Lane Filler

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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For this column, what I believe about man-made global warming is none of your beeswax. I may believe the idea that the Earth is warming thanks to carbon dioxide from factories and cars is a Communist hoax, and that carbon dioxide makes food tasty and hair lustrous. I may think anyone who doesn't accept man-made global warming as fact is a coal fetishist and religious fanatic who also denies evolution, the Sun's position at the center of the universe and the artistic importance of "Breaking Bad."

What I write here is simply true. It is not political. It would slow pollution. It would reduce the price of fossil fuels. It would create a surge of jobs.

It is the conservation of power through upfitting homes and other buildings that are not energy-efficient. There are programs that fund and organize this. They always succeed. They always pay for themselves. And they never seem to become widespread.

The Town of Babylon has such a program. LI Green Homes Director David Jacob and his staff set homeowners up with contractors who can make their homes more energy efficient. If the projected savings on the utility bills from the improvements exceed the cost of the project, the town loans money for the work to the homeowner. The homeowner uses part of the savings to repay the loan. Less power is used. Bills go down. The repayment is pain free, and according to Jacob, 1,400 houses have been upfitted since 2009. But at that pace, it will take 200 years to spread the benefit to Babylon's 65,000 homes.

The state Energy Research & Development Authority has a similar program. Property owners repay the cost of the improvements, which range from added insulation to converting a heating system from oil to natural gas, on utility bills. The bills go down, because the savings exceed the cost of improvements. Similar programs have worked elsewhere. But they're never big enough to change things.

The White House released a report yesterday saying man-made climate change is real, the effects are being felt, and we need to act now, or preferably 15 years ago. Politicians and pundits who disagree said climate change is not real, and if it is, it's not man-made, and we don't need to do anything because anything we do will kill jobs, plus the Third World.

Also yesterday, Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith Enck visited the Editorial Board, and when we got on the topic of things that shouldn't be controversial, like energy conservation, expressed frustration that such programs aren't everywhere. In a conversation with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shawn Donovan a few years ago, he also voiced support for such programs. So where are big versions of the programs? Where are their champions?

Tens of millions of buildings need renovations to become more efficient. A program that accomplished this would likely create millions of jobs. It costs the homeowners, in the long run and even in the short run, nothing, because the energy savings are more than the loan repayment. The reduction in fuel consumption would create a glut in oil, coal and natural gas that, experts say, could cut prices by 50 percent or more.

Leaders don't have to agree or disagree with warming theorists to fight for more such programs. They just need to stop arguing over environmentalism and economics long enough to do something great for the environment, and the economy.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.