One participating contractor, Charles McGinnis of Madison-based Johnson Controls, estimated his company has created 20 jobs hiring subcontractors for several green projects in large Milwaukee office buildings, including the turn-of-the-century, 15-story Wells building at 324 E. Wisconsin Ave., where the heating and cooling system was modernized in a $1.6 million project.
The improvements will cut the building's electric bills by 25 percent and save a projected 17.8 million gallons of water a year. The building owner received a $300,000 grant and $200,000 in pending loan guarantees, according to Erick Shambarger, Milwaukee's environmental sustainability manager. (Incentive caps are higher in Milwaukee.)
"Without those incentives, the owner may not have made that upfront investment," McGinnis said. "The systems deteriorate and many times a building owner doesn't have the resources, technical or financial, to figure out what to do."
Reasons for lag
One reason the program started slow is that federal officials first limited the incentives to low-interest loans, Shambarger said.
But borrowing was a tough sell in the weak post-recession economy, he said. Participation picked up after the cities got permission to offer grants along with loans starting in late 2010, Driscoll said.
In Madison, Soglin said the program was stalled when he came into office, prompting significant changes in how it was organized and publicized.
Also, the program was phased in by design, Wachter said, with the residential piece starting in 2010, and commercial projects in early 2012.
Home energy reports
Madison resident Rajan Shukla and his wife, Tora Frank, had an energy audit of their Near West Side home done last week. They wanted to make sure their 100-year-old house, which they moved into in July, wouldn't be too drafty for their three young children.
"We care about energy efficiency for a lot of reasons, cost being one," he said. "But we mainly just wanted to make sure our (home) that we're going to live in for many years was going to be comfortable. We want our kids to be able to run and crawl around and be warm and cozy."
And the energy audit will help them prioritize the needed improvements.
"It helps you triage your options going forward in a way that's very difficult to do without the help of science," Shukla said.
Mark Furst, owner of Grading Spaces of Fort Atkinson, tested the family's home, one of about 50 he's done for the Green Madison program.
Furst said the home market would be improved if sellers had to include a home energy report, the way cars for sale have to post gas mileage stickers.
"Then buyers would know what they're getting in terms of the hidden costs," Furst said. "People can waste a lot of money in heating and cooling inefficiencies, and you can't tell by just looking at a house. You need to test it."
Benefits for businesses
Madison businesses that have participated in the program include Centro Hispano, Badger Gymnastics Academy and Urban Land Interests.
At ULI, the company improved lighting, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning in four office buildings it owns, said Matt Darga, director of commercial property management.
For example, the program helped ULI renovate lighting in a 25,000-square-foot building at 7 N. Pinckney St. that was built in 1899 and last modernized in 1978, he said.
"It wasn't about going over the top to make some sort of environmental statement," Darga said. "We just wanted to save energy, which was good for the environment and the (tenants) and for us."
"That building needed work, and Green Madison came along at the right time," he added. "It's quite likely we wouldn't have done it without the program."
At Centro Hispano, the non-profit received nearly $8,000 from Green Madison to install more energy-efficient lighting inside and outside its headquarters at 810 W. Badger Road, plus add motion sensors and timers for the lights and better thermostats.
The improvements will save the organization about $3,000, or 17 percent, on its annual gas and electric bills, executive director Kent Craig said.
"I've done a lot of remodeling projects, and this was by far the easiest, just because everybody really wanted to make it happen," Craig said.
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