Wednesday, July 21st, 2010 - 5:35
Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - 13:29
It's important to make sure all states are treated equally. It's important to get the best return on investment for stimulus dollars. Can both these important things co-exist in the same world?
In looking at the Recovery Act from a variety of angles, it’s useful to closely examine the work done in individual states. Just last week, for example, we took a good look at how Iowa has quantified savings from weatherization, knowing that the special experience garnered from several decades of analysis in that state could yield important information for others.
Of course, states also vary a good deal in how much they benefit from their weatherization efforts. While a comprehensive national report is still in the works, a preliminary report from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory sheds light on the different impact that weatherization brings in different states and regions.
There’s a fascinating conflict between understandable and rational efforts to make sure all states are treated the same – and the desire to get the most bang for the buck in weatherization dollars for low-income households.
As the report makes clear, one side effect of the desire to treat states equally is the fact that weatherization may have much greater dollar returns in one area than in another. The report explains:
“0ne large state in the Northeast had estimated energy savings of 32.93 MBtu compared to 47.92 MBtu in a large Midwest state for comparable homes. The higher MBtu savings were largely driven by differences in the weather conditions in the two locations. The estimated dollar savings, however, were higher in the Northeast state by more than $100 per year because of the higher energy prices in that location. Similarly, while two states in the South and West had comparable energy savings,
the dollar savings per year in the South were estimated to be higher because of the higher energy prices in that particular location.”
In fact, given the differences in climate and energy costs, total dollar savings for a weatherized home in the West will be, on average, 3 or 4 times lower than the savings on a home in the Northeast or Midwest. The raw energy saved per home in the Midwest is nearly 5 times as much as in the West.
The argument for shifting weatherization funds toward those high-impact areas is underscored by other data in the report. Because low-income households in the Northeast predominately use relatively expensive fuel oil, their average energy expenditure is $2,341, compared to $1,745 for households in the Midwest, which typically use natural gas, and a mere $1,328 in the West, where the weather is usually more temperate. In other words, we’re left with the impression that, if the sole consideration of the weatherization program was reducing the energy-expenditure burden on low-income households, directing the bulk of funds to the Northeast might do the most good.
Obviously, we haven’t taken issues with implementation, in specific regions, into account in the forgoing – and, in fact, we haven’t done enough research to even know what all those issues are. Our only real point here is that there’s a clear tension between an effort to treat states equitably and still come up with the best outcomes possible. Whatever is done about this in coming months, moving forward on federal funding without taking this tension into account seems like the worst possible approach.