COWS – Center on Wisconsin Strategy – Based at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, this national policy center and laboratory works with business, government, labor and communities to develop and test new ideas.
Motivated by the statistic that 43% of all carbon dioxide is emitted from buildings (21% residential, 17% commercial, 5% industrial), COWS is working on the Milwaukee Energy Efficiency Initiative (pdf presentation) that builds a unique alliance to reduce this source of greenhouse gases.
Their mission looks promising. In terms of investments, retrofitting buildings is a low risk investment that has a high annual return of 22%. The other benefits include improving the environment, better worker/residents/student health and productivity, financial savings for property owners and tenants, and higher property values. An additional benefit is that these jobs cannot be outsourced.
The working model of the COWS system is as follows:
- First COWS negotiates with a bank for a revolving loan.
- Then they work with the local utility company to create a way for customers to repay their retrofit project by paying COWS a portion of the savings on their energy bill to COWS.
- An auditor comes in to assess the building.
- A contractor and crew do the necessary retrofit work.
- COWS receives payment from the utility company from each customer.
As soon as this model is tested, COWS will share this model with local organizations throughout the country. It looks very promising!
There are several other retrofitting initiatives in the works that are worth watching:
- plaNYC (large residential buildings)
- Cambridge Energy Alliance (city wide)
- C40 Cities with Clinton Climate Initiative (forty of the largest cities worldwide)