Thoughts on the Stimulus

Looking at the numbers pulled out from yesterday’s post, there are a few things I want to note.

First of all, the amount of money being put into building retrofits is pretty astounding. Just under 35 billion is included in the house stimulus package that is strictly for retrofitting and renovating buildings. This isn’t all solely for energy-efficiency measures, but much of it is. This includes money to the DOE Weatherization Assistance Program, money for the US General Services Administration to improve energy efficiency of federal buildings, grants to improve the energy efficiency of HUD subsidized housing for the elderly, disabled, and for Section 8, and for improving schools and institutions of higher education.

All of this is really exciting, but it also creates an astounding puzzle: how to ramp up these programs to such enormous levels quickly and effectively. For example, the Weatherization Assistance Program was allocated $227.2 Million last year. There is a national framework and a network of state and local agencies already in place, and allowances per building have been doubled, but absorbing roughly 25 times the amount of money will be a dramatic challenge.  A national framework for training and certification, as well as some sort of national database to expedite the process of analyzing and retrofitting buildings to the full cost-effective level. FAS is currently putting together thoughts on this, and I’ll have more on this shortly.

Another important point to note is tucked into the section on State Energy Program grants. The bill allocates $3.4 Billion to state energy programs, but allows money beyond normal allocations to be distributed only to states that have “decoupled” utility profits from sales in their regulation. This allows for utilities to profit from energy efficiency, rather than strictly from producing more energy, and it has been shown to be an important tool in energy reductions. It appears as though this was Rep. Waxman’s doing, and a more in depth account can be found here.

In addition to being tied to decoupling, these state energy program grants are to be given to states where the residential building code is equivalent or better than the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (and for commercial buildings, ASHRAE 90.1-2007). This is also encouraging. There are two halves to improving the national building stock through building codes: improving the codes themselves, and then getting municipalities to adopt them. Hopefully this carrot will help push states towards these improved codes.

Its unclear what of this will emerge in the final version of the stimulus, and I’ll be keeping an eye and adding more thoughts as things happen.

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