A Modest (Green) Proposalcomments (9) February 16th, 2009 in Blogs
Americans can get to work fixing our own home weatherization problems without government handouts if we just give them a chance. We can put Americans to work fixing America’s problems, we already have most of the systems in place, we just need to get started.
According to NAHB there are 75 million homes that are critically in need of weatherization and as much as 80-percent of our light commercial stock falls in the same category. President Obama is promoting a weatherization program to provide free weatherization for low income homes and tax credits for middleclass alternative energy improvements. But it would also be possible to provide a new financing structure to allow a for-profit weatherization industry to flourish that could address the needs of many more than just two million families of all income levels while giving jobs to American workers and saving our tax money for other projects.
We have lots of Americans of all income levels who are too hand-to-mouth to be able to afford the $5,000 or so it would take to make the most critical improvements to their homes. So they just put up with the high energy bills and poor indoor air quality and discomfort of living and working in drafty, underperforming buildings. It doesn’t need to be this way.
I’m proposing a zero-dollar-down weatherization program that will be applicable to rental properties, fully mortgaged properties on the edge of foreclosure, and light commercial as well as all categories of residential, not just low-income. By keeping the loans small enough, in the $5,000 range, and applying the right fixes to the right projects, the energy saved by the weatherization could balance the cost of the loan.
We will reach more people if we simplify the application process by not tying up the equity in the building but instead using the homes’ electrical connection to the grid to secure the loans. The weatherization projects could be selected and designed such that the energy savings would be equal to the loan payment but the payment would be included in the electric bill and if you failed to pay your power would be cut off. Your equity in your home or your rent payment would be unaffected. Any occupied building or mobile home might qualify, even rentals and foreclosures, so long as the electric bill was being paid and the energy saved by the weatherization would balance the cost of the loan.
We need to save the tax money for things we can’t do for ourselves. Let the banks loan the money, not the taxpayers. We’ve already loaned enough to the banks as it is.
While the loan payment would be included in the electric bill, we shouldn’t expect electric companies to be leaders in efforts to reduce demand for their product. Net metering of solar PV and wind power has been plagued by lack of utility acceptance. But electric companies are already set up to deliver a bill, which includes tax, and enforce its payment by cutting off power if necessary. Let them be the collection agent and use their mailing lists to promote neighborhood energy campaigns to fix as many homes in one neighborhood as possible before moving to the next neighborhood rather than just fixing homes scattershot all around the area.
Existing, professionally managed, insulation companies can do the work. We should require that they have workers comp but offer government subsidized general liability insurance to offset the increased risk of all these small jobs in occupied homes. When Jimmy Carter declared the energy crises “the moral equivalent of war” and instituted solar tax credits we saw way too many failed solar panels due to incompetent workmanship. Let’s keep the weatherization industry well managed and professional and not open the field up to any guy with a pickup and an insulation sprayer.
To do this we need independent oversight. Here is where we can leverage taxpayer money through the Department of Energy’s existing Energy Star Home Energy Rater system to train, license, and oversee a legion of energy auditors to seek out the projects that can most benefit from tightening ducts and sealing crawls, floors, windows and attics to the point that the reduced energy usage would offset the loan payment. We can use the existing community college system to train these workers using materials from the DOE.
Trust but verify, keep the energy auditors accountable through a taxpayer subsidized licensing and oversight organization similar to the way we currently regulate termite inspectors and pesticide companies. It is good for the auditors to be employed by the weatherization contractors (for improved communication) but they should be required to provide before and after reports to the licensing agency showing the improvements made and backing up the quality of the work.
Keep the loans small, not more than $5,000, so the payback cost would balance the fuel savings but lets also encourage the auditors to educate the occupants and provide a menu of additional strategies they could take on to further improve their energy efficiency on their own. We are aiming for the low hanging fruit here Americans can stand on their own two feet for the rest.
Let’s put Americans to work fixing America’s problems, we can do it, let's get started.
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