How does the US government justify shelling out another $2 billion in new spending when pundits and politicians are screaming loudly for cuts, not...

How does the US government justify shelling out another $2 billion in new spending when pundits and politicians are screaming loudly for cuts, not investment?

How does a 1000-percent return on investment sound?

That’s what officials say that $2 billion, coupled with another $2 billion in private capital commitments, could generate over the next 10 years … if the money is spent on making buildings across the country more energy efficient.

President Barack Obama today pledged to do just that as part of a “Better Buildings Challenge” to reduce the energy footprint of public and private structures across the US over the next decade. Making buildings just 20 percent more efficient could save nearly $40 billion in energy costs by 2022, he said.

“Upgrading the energy efficiency of America’s buildings is one of the fastest, easiest, and cheapest ways to save money, cut down on harmful pollution, and create good jobs right now,” Obama said. “But we can’t wait for Congress to act. So today, I’m directing all federal agencies to make at least $2 billion worth of energy efficiency upgrades over the next 2 years — at no upfront cost to the taxpayer. Coupled with today’s extraordinary private sector commitments of $2 billion to upgrade businesses, factories and military housing, America is taking another big step towards the competitive, clean energy economy it will take to win the future.”

It’s no secret that buildings can be giant energy hogs. In the US, commercial buildings alone consumed around 20 percent of all the nation’s energy last year. And efficiency is rightly regarded as the “fifth” — and most cost-effective — fuel, with upfront improvements producing measurable and lasting benefits.

The $4 billion in efficiency spending announced today is aimed at reaping long-term energy benefits that will more than pay for themselves, hence Obama’s comment about “no upfront cost to the taxpayer.” Under the terms of the Presidential Memorandum, officials will use Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs) to install new, energy-efficient equipment at federal facilities. Private-sector contractors will guarantee the energy savings that will result from those improvements, and the cost of upgrades will be paid for over time through savings on utility bills.

In addition to the government’s commitment of $2 billion, another $2 billion is being pledged by 60 CEOs, mayors, university presidents and labor leaders. They represent organizations that include 3M, the AFL-CIO, the District of Columbia, GE, Michigan State University, Schneider Electric, Serious Energy, the State of Minnesota, the SUPERVALU grocery chain (Albertson’s, Shaw’s, Jewel-Osco, Cub, Farm Fresh, etc.), TIAA-CREF, the University of California-Irvine and Wyndham Worldwide.