Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

February 10, 2009

Obama: The Simple Logic of Efficiency (NOT BORING!)

Category: Conservation,Editorial,Energy Independence,Household,Policy – Tom Harrison – 10:34 am

President Obama highlighted the benefits of efficiency in his press conference last night, in several different cases. For example, he said

When people suggest that, “What a waste of money to make federal buildings more energy-efficient.” Why would that be a waste of money?

We’re creating jobs immediately by retrofitting these buildings or weatherizing 2 million Americans’ homes, as was called for in the package, so that right there creates economic stimulus.

And we are saving taxpayers when it comes to federal buildings potentially $2 billion. In the case of homeowners, they will see more money in their pockets. And we’re reducing our dependence on foreign oil in the Middle East. Why wouldn’t we want to make that kind of investment?

Why not indeed?

Even my hero Jon Stewart on The Daily Show showed clips of Obama talking about weatherization as Stewart pretended to nod off. Next, they played a clip of one of Obama’s rousing speeches about grand ideas and asked “Where is that guy?” Weatherization sounds so … boring, I guess. It doesn’t sound grand, or bold.

We continually seek grand “silver bullet” solutions to our problems. Instead we need smart solutions, and lots and lots of them, boring or not.

Our $2,500 Per Year Tax Cut (of Several)

Is weatherization boring? Does it seem trivial? In our house over the last 12 years we have insulated, caulked, installed efficient windows and a new gas burner. We have certainly reduced our heating and cooling demand by one third to one half. These were not the inexpensive improvements I often talk about, but given that we now pay around $2,500/year for heating and cooling, these projects have undoubtedly paid for themselves. (This is far more valuable than any tax cut would be, by the way.) And weatherizing our house will continue to pay us dividends every single year.

And as I have reported, this is only only one such self-made tax cuts we have gained real and lasting financial benefit from.

Buildings Use A Big Share of Energy For Heating and Cooling

A huge share of our energy goes into heating and cooling: 43% of household energy and 30% in commercial buildings in the US.

The point is, there’s a big bang for the buck here.

Many people in the building trades will do this work. Several industries will get a needed boost. The folks who get this assistance are most likely the ones who could benefit most from the money they save (and some of those folks are the US government). In the end, the only losers are the companies and countries supplying us with oil, gas and coal. Our energy security, as you’ll recall, seemed to be very important to people before the economy went to hell last summer. (And oh yeah, efficient buildings help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, too). And as in our house, weatherizing buildings will reduce our demand for oil, gas and coal indefinitely — buildings last a long time!

Note To Wall Street: Here’s a Good Investment Tip

The stimulus package is said to contain a large number of other measures to increase energy efficiency. And that’s a good thing.

The stimulus package also includes projects like repairing roads and bridges. Yes, I think we need these projects, too — I know from having worked at a transportation consulting company for a while that local, state and federal funding for these projects often get the back seat to the projects such as the one we had here in the Boston area, known as the “Big Dig” completed in 2007 at an cost of some $22 billion. So yes, these are projects that just need to get done. But there’s very little long-term benefit here; yes, these jobs put people to work right away and that’s good.

Efficiency is not “pie in the sky” investment — remember when George Bush was touting the benefits of hydrogen fuel cells — but until we get the technology a lot further along, in addition to being pie in the sky, it is CO2 in the sky!

But efficiency is simple, real, immediate and solves many problems at once. No single set of projects like weatherization will solve all our problems, but this kind are the ones that solve problems now and later. In case the folks in Wall Street need an example, that’s my definition of a good investment.

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