Friday, January 2, 2009

A Culture of Poverty

CC image on Flickr by A.M. Kuchling

Barack Obama wants to build a clean energy future and he's got his work cut out for him. We the people of the United States are a very shortsighted group. The idea of paying more now to save more later is anathema to most. His energy policy plans are a good start, but we need to be sure that national policies have local backup.

Focusing on the consumers, he plans to weatherize one million low income homes a year for the next decade. That's ten million homes in ten years. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 80 Million houses in the United States and a total of more than 128 million units. Weatherizing ten million homes is a significant step towards energy efficiency, but it only hints at what needs to be done.

Currently money is being spent primarilly to support the energy costs of low income users. A cynical but technically correct translation is that every american supports the energy utilities so that they allow the poorer of us not to freeze.

We need to commit to efficiency on a grand scale rather than just paying off debt and defraying costs. The LIHEAP heating assistance program has received a much deserved budget increase for 2009, bringing funding up to $5.1 billion for the year. For Every dollar spent in this way we must spend another dollar to actually fix the heating situation. Every new home should be required to meet current Energy Star standards (or at least all homes in developments of x houses or more) and new energy star standards need to be set close to zero net energy.

Armory Park Del Sol's rooftops

While I was in Tucson in december I came across Armory Park Del Sol, which is an excellent example of what every new development should be. It is downtown Tucson infill. The lot was undeveloped and probably planned originally for warehouses, now it is residences in a style similar to the historic neighborhood it borders. Of course they actually have high tech offerings as well:
All Armory Park del Sol homes are now built with a solar electric system of at least 1.5 kWh (earlier homes were built with a 1 kWh solar electric system) and a passive solar water heater that meets approximately half of a family's water heating needs. The Net ZEH has a 4.2 kW solar electric system and an active solar hot water system that is designed to provide almost all of a family's water and home heating needs.
I applaud President Elect Obama on his energy plans, but we need more projects like Armory Park Del Sol and Efficiency Vermont. And I think that we need some very well crafted regulation to encourage it.

Further Reading:
Energy Aid Still Available - The Brattleboro Reformer
Sustainability: Community scaled ideas are needed - Ralph Meima
Vermont's Seasonal Fuel Assistance Program
The State of Vermont's Weatherization Program
LIHEAP Clearinghouse: Vermont
The Census Bureau's housing Statistics

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