Green Pennsylvania

We should make the state a showcase for green jobs and technology

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The State Office Building in Pittsburgh is a gleaming, 16-story structure that occupies a prime site in the city's Golden Triangle near the entrance to Point State Park. Its offices provide sweeping views of the park and the confluence of the city's famed three rivers.

Yes, the 52-year-old building, a symbol of Pittsburgh's post-World War II renaissance, is showing signs of old age. Its elevators creak, there are some asbestos problems and it lacks a modern sprinkler system.

But what is the state's solution? Rather than invest in upgrades, it wants to unload the building at a fire-sale price of $4.5 million -- less than the value of the property alone.

The Department of General Services, the state agency that oversees commonwealth properties, estimates that it would need to invest $65 million over 20 years to update and maintain the State Office Building -- although engineers have told me it could be rehabbed for $12 million to $15 million.

If the State Office Building is sold, the DGS would decentralize the state's presence in Western Pennsylvania by relocating 800 state employees to at least three privately owned buildings -- saddling taxpayers with multimillion-dollar long-term lease obligations and forcing them to search the Internet to find new locations to do such everyday things as get a driver's license photo or have a question answered about state income taxes.

The moving costs and "buildout" expenses at the new locations would more than offset any profits from the sale, meaning that taxpayers would have to pay for the new leases. As the state's fiscal watchdog, I believe this a bad deal for taxpayers and for the commonwealth, which should not be selling a prime asset during the worst real-estate market in decades.

There is a better solution.

Let's make the State Office Building, and other state-owned properties, models for green technology. Such an initiative could create thousands of new, high-paying jobs at a time when jobs are desperately needed. It could help preserve valuable state-owned properties for generations to come. And greening the State Office Building would enhance Pittsburgh's reputation as an environmentally conscious city.

The federal stimulus plan recently signed by President Barack Obama contains more than $42 billion to spur energy-related investments. There is $5 billion to help low-income families make home improvements, $300 million for rebates to people who buy energy-efficient appliances and a 30-percent tax credit of up to $1,500 for people who purchase high-efficiency air conditioners and furnaces or take steps to insulate their homes or replace leaky windows.

Pennsylvania is expected to receive about $360 million for energy investments from the federal government through the State Energy Program and the Weatherization Assistance Program. Gov. Ed Rendell recently attended a summit in Philadelphia hosted by Vice President Joe Biden to promote green jobs in the commonwealth.

The federal stimulus package includes $500 million for a green-jobs training program. At the Philadelphia summit, Vice President Biden said that people now making $20 an hour could earn up to $50 per hour after green-jobs training. Other experts have estimated that green jobs will pay a 10 percent to 20 percent premium over similar work outside the field.

Pennsylvania should take a leadership role by turning Pittsburgh's State Office Building into one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the country. The state could install new efficient heating and electric systems, replace old doors and lights, possibly construct solar panels on the roof and otherwise make the building much more efficient and a source of pride for Western Pennsylvania. The state government could make this office building a model for how Pennsylvania families and businesses can save money on their energy bills.

Mr. Rendell has ordered that 20 percent of all energy used in Pennsylvania come from renewable sources by the end of next year. To reach that goal, we must work together.

I urge DGS Secretary James Creedon, who is in charge of selling the State Office Building as well as overseeing Pennsylvania's spending of federal stimulus money, to heed his boss' call. Let's help Pennsylvania reach its 2010 energy goal by making the State Office Building and other commonwealth properties showcases for green technology.


Jack Wagner is Pennsylvania's auditor general ( www.auditorgen.state.pa.us ).


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