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Green building puts some in the red

By Sean Ryan

Wisconsin Public Service Corp. is considering furloughs and layoffs to offset declining revenue yet still supports green construction that will cut into demand for the utility’s electricity.

Barb Nick, WPS’s senior vice president of energy delivery and customer service, said the utility can absorb the immediate hit because energy efficiency projects will pay off. If manufacturing companies save money on electricity, she said, they can cut product prices, attract more orders and buy more electricity to create more products.

“The more successful they are, the more business they get,” Nick said. “The more business they get, the more our revenues.”

WPS represents the general response of utilities and utility contractors to a U.S. Green Building Council study predicting that between 2009 and 2013, green building projects will generate $554 billion in construction and put 7.9 million people to work nationwide.

But the renovated buildings and those built to green standards will use less water and less electricity and generate less trash. That will result in less money for electrical utilities, waste-management companies and water and sewer contractors, according to the report.

Predicted declines in demand for some jobs, such as maintenance and repair of buildings, mean workers must be retrained for the green jobs that will be more popular in coming years, said Jason Hartke, director of advocacy and public policy for the USGBC.

“We’ll continue to have that emphasis and provide as much education in all the sectors that are going green,” he said, “so there is less of a rub.”

The study predicts, nationwide, that the rise of green building will result in a $4.8 billion decrease in money for industries that generate electricity.

But even more-efficient buildings cannot offset the increase in demand from construction of new homes and businesses, said Forrest Ceel, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2150, Menomonee Falls.

“If you go out 10, 15, 20 years,” he said, “there’s still going to be an increasing demand for power.”

Water and sewer contractors, like utilities, are not threatened by green building projects that will reduce water use in buildings, said Richard Wanta, executive director of the Wisconsin Underground Contractors Association.

The USGBC’s report predicts a $500 billion cut nationwide in spending on water and sewer systems because of green construction.

But water preservation projects in Wisconsin — such as installation of high-efficiency urinals, toilets, green roofs and storm-water management systems — are just a drop in the bucket compared with the need for sewer pipes and treatment systems, Wanta said.

And contractors still are getting work on energy-efficiency projects such as building green roofs and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District’s plan to build a pipe to channel methane to treatment plant boilers.

“I don’t see how it’s going to have a major impact on the budgets,” Wanta said of green construction.


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