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Australian Economic Stimulus Also Helps Environment

Under Australia's program, homeowners in older homes who install new insulation get up to $1200 from the federal government
Under Australia's program, homeowners in older homes who install new insulation get up to $1200 from the federal government

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Derek Henkle

Nearly a year after the global financial crisis peaked, an economic stimulus program that Australia says was key in easing its recession, is getting attention and praise.   The program is aimed at energy efficiency and has even had an impact on jobs in the United States.

Under Australia's program, homeowners in older homes who install new insulation get up to $1200 from the federal government.  

The program has created jobs, while reducing carbon emissions and cutting electric bills up to 40 percent in each household.

Ross Davidson is spokesman for Australia's Department of the Environment. He says the $2 billion effort is one reason Australia's unemployment rate is half that of the United States. "What we actually found is that not only were jobs being created, there was a lot more confidence in the market... And it is a program that is so simple to duplicate in other economies," he said.

About 19,000 homes a week are getting new insulation, says Davidson, and that's fueling more jobs of all kinds.

Michael Penney is a businessman.  He says his company - which installs ceiling insulation across Australia -- is booming. "We expanded, we put in a mini call center, we employed a couple of girls, put in computer systems, spent some money on advertising, and we employed and trained another approximately, about, 10 people that we've introduced to the industry." 

But production -- specifically of insulation materials --has not kept up with demand.

Paul Pickup is logistics manager at Fletcher Insulation, the country's largest producer of insulation. He says his company found a solution. "So we then looked to Owens Corning, who had plants that didn't have anything to do at this point in time in the States," he stated.

Owens Corning opened a new line at a factory in California to feed Australia's demand. That created at least 150 American jobs--and saved others.

And it's this material, made in Australia and also imported from countries like the United States, which the government here says has created over 25,000 jobs.

Sexy enough to gain the attention of US President Barack Obama. Last month, the president pitched a similar program in his speech at the Home Depot in Alexandria, Virginia. "A lot of people say we can't afford to deal with these emissions to the environment.  But the fact of the matter is energy efficiency is a perfect example of how this can be a win-win," Mr Obama said.

The approach, like Australia's, is to address the economic crisis and at the same time tackle global warming.  Here that will amount to cutting carbon emissions by 30 million tons over the next decade, the equivalent of taking 600,000 cars off the road.

"It makes a lot of sense if it's adding more than just job creation, it's actually adding to the ability for the country to reduce its energy usage as well," Pickup said.
 
Homeowner Steve Kotarac is upbeat. "Well it's a good thing for everybody," he said. "If it's good for the climate, it's good for the people too."

And that has policy makers in Australia and the US hoping people will think pink to go green.

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