Home Energy Pros ( a blog funded in part by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, so take this with a grain of salt) has announced that the “stimulus bill is working” and “has created good paying, permanent jobs in the new, greener economy.”
It touts the following program as evidence:
The City of Portland, with the help of Green For All, a national nonprofit organization that works to spread the benefits of the new green economy to every level of the economic hierarchy, was given through EECBG access to $1.1-million for a pilot program to retrofit 500 homes in the Portland area. But the money was not a grant—it is a revolving loan. Portland has leveraged the loan fund with public and private investments to generate to date close to $7-million in homeowner investment.
The results so far:
• More than 500 newly retrofitted homes that use on average 450 therms of gas and 7,700 kWh of electricity less than they did before retrofit. At about $1 per therm and $0.12 per kWh (which is what I pay to PG&E) that equals a savings of $1,374 per house per year.
• Employment for 381 construction workers making an average of about $25 per hour. The workforce is about 50% people of color and 8% women.
• Almost one-quarter of the pilot project dollars have gone to minority- or women-owned businesses.
My main issue is with the statement that the “stimulus bill is working” based on a program administrating approximately one ten thousandth of one percent of the allocated money. First, it’s cherry picking a tiny mote from an astoundingly large mountain (that as a whole has not performed as advertised), and second, it’s not a particularly juicy cherry.
If you take the $1.1 million in revolving loans and add that to the $7 million in homeowner investment, you get an apparent $8.1 million price tag to retrofit 500 homes. Does that sound steep to anyone else?
The stated savings are $1,374 per house per year – an almost unbelievably large number. Granted, the electricity costs are higher in the west, but according the the Energy Information Administration’s most recent survey (2005), the average Pacific region household expenditure on all energy is just $1,400 per year. How you save $1,374 of that is beyond me.
Even if those savings numbers were correct, it would still take almost 12 years for a simple payback on the $8.1 million invested. It almost certainly would’ve made more sense (and saved more energy) to do low-cost retrofits on more houses. A couple of hundred bucks on air sealing and insulation goes a long, long way.
Why am I bothering to nitpick the statements of my fellow greenies? Because if there’s one thing I hate, it’s misguided and destructive policy. And unfortunately, the Home Energy Pros blog attempts to put a green band-aid on a gaping head wound.
Here, once again, is how I’d tackle the green economy:
- Stop subsidizing energy (most of it goes to coal, oil, gas and nuke anyway)
- Stop protecting companies that pollute the air and water. Allow them to be sued out of existence by the people whose air, land, and water are destroyed either through “accidents” or “business as usual.” Why is there a cap on BP’s liability, for instance?
- If steps one and two do not make it prohibitively expensive to produce energy “the old-fashioned way”, come up with a carbon or energy tax that makes it more expensive to use non-renewable resources. By staying at the top level, you will not be forced to pick winners and losers in the market with subsidies and tax breaks, a task that is prone to lobby influence and back-room deals.
Yup, I know, not very popular ideas. I suppose I’ll never get elected, now! But in the immortal words of Bon Jovi, “bad medicine is what I need. Whoa-a-oh shake it up….”