One of the best job-producing moves government could make, according to energy-conservation advocates, would be an investment in weatherization and solar-energy devices for homes and businesses across the United States.
People involved in such conservation activities say their potential for producing new jobs, business expansion, and energy savings has been demonstrated. A much larger commitment than has been proposed either by the Reagan administration or congressional Democrats is justified, the conservationists argue.
A $5.4 billion Democratic jobs bill, passed by the US House late last year but not acted upon by the Senate, would have provided $250 million for weatherproofing homes and apartments occupied by low-income residents.
Although Department of Energy funding for conservation projects is cut almost in half in President Reagan's proposed fiscal 1984 budget - from $670 million in fiscal '83 to $383 million in the budget year beginning next July 1 - statistics gathered over the past several years by agencies involved in weatherization and solar energy projects indicate these activities are very efficient employment stimulators.
The Solar Lobby in Washington, D.C., will announce later this month a ''Solar Energy, National Security, and Employment Act.'' The measure would provide major impetus to the energy conservation effort. It will not require any new funding in fiscal 1984, according to Scott Sklar, the lobby's political director.
The bill has four parts, explains Mr. Sklar, dealing with small business, national security, employment, and consumer information. ''Basically they either protect or broaden certain programs to help renewable energy or extend programs that are due to be cut off in the future,'' he says. Energy tax credits for small businesses and homeowners, due to expire in 1985, would be extended to 1990. Under the bill, skill training for workers in renewable energy and conservation activities, such as solar and weatherization, would be allowable in all federal jobs programs.
A bipartisan group of 20 US senators and representatives, several of them chairmen of key committees, are sponsoring the legislation.
Ted Rauh, chief of the Division of Conservation of the California Energy Commission, points out that conservation activities are a close second to highway construction in providing jobs and stimulating business activity - with the added benefit of cutting energy consumption and costs. Energy efficiency programs and businesses in California provided $750 million worth of jobs and investments in 1982, Mr. Rauh reports.
Researchers for the AFL-CIO's Industrial Union Department project that energy conservation actitives could create 600,000 jobs by 1990.
Michael Gordon, program director of The Institute for the Human Environment in San Francisco, says: ''An expanded effort to 'button up our homes' would provide many thousands of jobs in both the public and private sectors - through production of home weatherization materials; retail sales of insulation, weatherstripping, caulk, water-heater blankets, low-flow shower heads, and other products; and the organization, administration, and implementation of coordinated local weatherization programs throughout the United States.''
He cites Santa Clara County, Calif., as an example. It is estimated, Mr. Gordon says, that ''if even 25 percent of homes in the county needing weatherization were made energy-efficient, almost $30 million in local sales of material could be realized.''
Portland, Ore., which began an ambitious weatherization and energy-conservation program in 1979, provides impressive evidence of what it can mean to a local economy.
According to Jeanne McCormick, director of the Portland [Ore.] Energy Office, that city's weatherization and energy-conservation program has produced many benefits in terms of residential and business savings - and jobs saved as well as created. ''We have found,'' she says, ''that, generally, investment of $15 million by local businesses in such projects such as insulating buildings, or changing to more energy-efficient ways of making their products, create - directly - 525 jobs.
''There's not only the contractor who comes in to do the job, there are engineers who perform energy audits and architects who design changes. Then there's what we call the ''leveraging effect,'' where you have the secretary who works for the contractor, and so forth.
''We have done energy audits for 146 small businesses, which have been able to cut energy consumption (an average of) 191/2 percent as a result. Even though energy costs in Portland are lower than in many other areas of the country, those firms collectively are saving $525,000 a year. They can reinvest that money in expansion.
''So it's not just the number of jobs created by the weatherization itself, but how much money that business saves that can be used to diversify or expand or spend on training or use it to keep people on the job.''
Mrs. McCormick and others point out that little retraining of workers is involved in these energy-conservation activities. Most come from the existing pool of unemployed skilled workers - carpenters, pipefitters, boilermakers, and plumbers, and others in light construction and light manufacturing. Other direct and indirect positions are created in marketing, retail sales, business management, lending, and the appraisal and real-estate fields.