'Cool Schools' viewed as symbolic win, questions remain

'Cool Schools' became law in Oregon on Thursday, encouraging energy efficiency upgrades for schools.

'Cool Schools' became law in Oregon on Thursday, encouraging energy efficiency upgrades for schools.

Gov. John Kitzhaber signed what's become known as the "Cool Schools" bill into law Thursday, prompting back slaps among energy efficiency and green job-creation advocates across the state.

The law, a prominent part of Kitzhaber's campaign and energy strategy, will make cheap loans available to schools, which can use the funds to retrofit their buildings for better energy efficiency. To fund the loans the state will tap federal bonds and pair them with an existing state loan program.

While the signing of the law generated excitement Thursday, questions remain about Cool School's impact.

Construction-related work is cited as one benefit as school districts across the state work to improve the efficiency and functionality of their buildings.

"This is highly needed," said Clif Davis, the business manager of IBEW Local 48. "It has the potential to provide a lot of construction jobs."

Just how many jobs will be created and how many schools will benefit depends on a lot of details about the new law that many in the industry are still figuring out.

The Cool Schools legislation packages financing from several sources together under one umbrella.

"It's smart in the way it pulls together sources of funding rather than having individual schools cobble together their own financing," said Jana Gastellum, climate change program director at the Oregon Environmental Council.

Under the new law, federal bonds called Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds will be tapped and paired with an existing state loan program administered by the Oregon Department of Energy and the State Energy Loan Program — known as SELP — which has been around since 1979.

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