Stimulus Funds Spent to Keep Sun Belt Cool

Read about how recovery funds are being used in communities around the country

Stimulus Funds Spent to Keep Sun Belt Cool

Postby StephanieCutts » Mon Jul 27, 2009 7:35 pm

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/08/scien ... nted=print

June 8, 2009

By MICHAEL COOPER

CRAWFORDVILLE, Fla. ­ The federal government is spending $5 billion in stimulus money to weatherize homes across the country. That is almost as much as it has spent on weatherization since the program was created in the 1970s to cut heating bills and conserve oil for low-income people.

But this year, there is a twist.

An unusually large share of the money will be spent not on keeping cold air out but on keeping cold air in. As a result of a political compromise with Sun Belt lawmakers last decade, the enormous expansion of the weatherization program will invoke a rarely used formula that will devote 31 percent of the money, nearly double the old share of 16 percent, to help states in hot climates, like Florida, save on air-conditioning.

Many environmentalists say cutting electricity use for cooling is just as worthwhile as reducing the use of oil or gas for heating. But there are substantial questions about whether it is the most efficient way to save energy.

The nation spends twice as much on heating as on cooling, according to the federal Energy Information Administration, and it consumes more energy heating homes than cooling them. When it comes to emissions of heat-trapping gases, the department found, home heating is responsible for emitting twice as much carbon dioxide as home cooling. And a 2005 survey of home energy use by the agency found that the average household in New England spent $1,188 a year on heating, while the average household in Florida spent $597 on air-conditioning.

Repeated questions have been raised about the effectiveness of weatherization in hot-climate states. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, which evaluates the program for the Energy Department, released a study last year questioning the program’s results in Texas, which will get $327 million in weatherization money from the stimulus law. The laboratory found that insulating homes did not save a significant amount of money on cooling, a finding it said was consistent with previous studies.

Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a nonprofit group that favors weatherization, said the spending formula reflected the tension in balancing national goals with regional interests. “If you were doing it on a national basis,” Mr. Nadel said, “you’d do the most cost-effective jobs first, which would mean doing a lot in places like the Dakotas and Minnesota.”

Gil Sperling, the program manager at the Office of Weatherization and Intergovernmental Affairs at the Energy Department, said more studies of weatherization in hot climates were needed to take into account recent technological advances.

“While the Department of Energy is gathering the latest data about the savings in cold-weather and warm-weather states,” Mr. Sperling said, “this program has a proven track record of saving money, saving energy and creating jobs across the country.”

The stimulus money is being divided according to a formula devised in 1995 after members of Congress from the hot states complained that they received too little money through the weatherization program. The formula has been used just twice, since it is invoked only in the rare years that the program financing exceeds a threshold, now set at $233 million.

J. Bennett Johnston, a former Democratic senator from Louisiana who pushed for the new formula at the time, said more people were dying from extreme heat than extreme cold. “This was not so much an energy saving proposal; it was more of an equity proposal, one that gave attention to public health,” Mr. Johnston said, adding that it would save energy.

Now, the formula favoring hot states is being used just as the government makes its biggest investment in weatherization.

So while all states will get more money for weatherization than ever before, and cold states will still get a majority of the money, the share going to cold states will be smaller than usual. In the past, cold states received two-thirds of the weatherization money; now they will take just over half.

This is one of several examples where the stimulus law relies on existing Congressional formulas to divide billions of dollars. Doing so made it hard to direct the spending but avoided messy fights in Congress over how to divide the money.

As Florida’s weatherization money climbs to $176 million over the next couple of years, from $5 million this year, the scene that played out recently at Jessica Langston’s double-wide mobile home in Crawfordville is likely to become more common.

A large truck, parked by a palm tree in the front yard, was pumping fiberglass insulation into small holes bored in the corrugated metal roof. Glaziers were sticking tinted film to the windows to dull the sun’s heat. And cool air was streaming through the floor vents, much stronger now that the metal ducts beneath the floor had been sealed tight and the air-conditioner unit outside had been serviced.

“Before, it would just be hot, unbearably hot,” said Ms. Langston, 27, who had covered the windows with tin foil and taped a leaky window shut when she moved in last summer, pregnant with her third daughter. Her monthly electricity bills can top $400.

Officials here say that the program has cut electricity use and costs. A review of the utility bills of nine Floridians whose homes were recently weatherized showed varied savings. A couple of bills were halved, with monthly savings of up to $178; most customers saved $13 to $44 a month, and one customer saw her electric bill rise as she consumed more electricity after her house had been weatherized.

Norm Gampel, who manages the program for the Florida Department of Community Affairs, said new training tailored to Sun Belt states had helped. Florida workers now use infrared cameras to pinpoint leaks, along with blower doors, large fans that suck the air out of a house to measure how airtight it is.

There is no doubt that the program will have its intended effect of putting people to work: nine people worked on Ms. Langston’s house. Robin Dias, the weatherization coordinator here for Wakulla County, said that he was preparing to expand to six crews, from two, to handle the additional work and that he was having no trouble finding workers since the housing market went bust.

“When everything was going so good, I couldn’t hardly get nobody,” Mr. Dias said. “But since the drop ­ oh man, I’ve got a list of contractors.”

Mr. Gampel said he was convinced that with the increased financing, the program would prove its worth in hot states.

“This is our chance to shine,” he said. “Or, we’re in the spotlight, however you want to look at it.”
StephanieCutts
 
Posts: 126
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 1969 4:00 pm

Return to Recovery Projects and Funding In the News

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest

cron