Vermont has a new comprehensive energy plan that is full of thoughtful - though non-binding and unfunded - ideas. The plan calls for meeting 90% of the state's energy needs through renewables by 2050.
Energy professionals know that it makes sense to dramatically reduce the energy requirements of homes and meet a large portion of remaining needs with renewables. We know how to do the work, what we don’t know is how to pay for it – solar panels and insulation are just too expensive. Really?
Let’s put cost into context. It might cost $40,000 to reduce the energy requirements of an average home by 75%. That’s around 20 year’s worth of home energy bills. You could also spend that much on a solar power system to meet most of your home’s electric needs; an investment that might save you about half as much in annual energy costs as the same investment in efficiency. The value of energy is weighted towards efficiency over generation. In this respect, investing in efficiency first makes renewables more affordable.
I hear you – “where do I get $40,000? L-o-a-n is a 4-letter word!” One argument suggests that energy savings will cover loan payments, but this isn’t always true. Often, when substantial efficiency improvements are financed, banks make more money in interest than the homeowner realizes in savings. Housing is a long term social resource, and the burden of maintaining that resource should not fall entirely on the shoulders of its current, temporary, custodians.
To broaden the context, the US spends about $800 billion a year on military funding and Middle East “stabilization”. A substantial amount of that sum is spent in an attempt to secure foreign energy resources. What if we took half of that $800 billion and spent it on reducing the need to spend it on securing the resources that we wouldn’t need if we were more efficient? That much money would allow us to substantially reduce the energy requirements of about 10 million homes. In just over twelve years, they’d all be done and we’d need 75% less fuel oil, natural gas, and coal, to meet our home energy needs.
If that’s not fast enough, or you don’t like that particular funding plan, perhaps we can use the same approach used to bail out Wall Street. I don’t know how they did it, but somehow the government was able to cooperate and work at breakneck speed to find and spend over $5 trillion dollars in just a couple of years to keep the financial world on life support after they mortally wounded their own selves. Five trillion is pretty much exactly what we need to retrofit every home in the country for maximum efficiency. How about the feds step in to pay the interest down to 0% on homeowner loans that reduce energy consumption by 75% or more? That way, we reap the benefits of our investment - not the banks - in an energy independence “bail out” that actually has meaningful, long term effects. And five trillion represents a lot of jobs!
Like most of us, I’ve no shortage of ideas that will never work because they make too much sense to the 99%. The unfortunate fact is that the 1% pull the strings and make the decisions no matter how much input they ask us for in order to make us feel part of the process. Nothing short of a large scale tax revolt will change the way things work in Washington, and I’ll get on that band wagon right after you do. So in the meantime, take it personally and take action!