This article was originally published in the September/October 1995 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.
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Home Energy Magazine Online September/October 1995
Is Half a Billion Enough?
As this issue goes to press, Congress is wrestling with the budget for energy efficiency. This covers a wide range of activities, from basic research into new materials and technologies that save energy to low-income weatherization and dissemination of information to consumers. The final numbers haven't been agreed upon (and there are still opportunities for lobbying) but a big cut is nearly certain. It appears that the final budget will be around $500 million, roughly a 30% cut from the previous year.
Should the federal government spend so much on energy efficiency? What does half a billion get us? Department of Energy-funded research has greatly accelerated the deployment of many new conservation measures. Low-emissivity windows and films are a good example. This technology, which is commonplace in the United States, is only just appearing in our technological rival, Japan. There are similar stories for new lighting systems, refrigerators, controls, and other developments supported by DOE.
Appliance efficiency standards are another target of many budget cutters and ideologues in Congress, and there is a strong push to eliminate all standards and regulations. Yet these standards are responsible for consumers cutting their refrigeration bills by over half when they buy new units. Just for comparison, a new U.S. refrigerator is 40% larger, but uses about 30% less electricity, than a Japanese unit (guess why!). The American model also costs about one-third as much as the Japanese refrigerator. In fact, appliance standards already in place have saved consumers $130 billion.
Low-income weatherization funding and support of state energy offices face the largest cuts, over 50% and $122 million. This money directly benefits poor people. The people who do the weatherization work are not wealthy either, and many of their jobs would be lost. In other words, people and communities will be hurt.
Energy information and technical assistance programs are also likely to suffer major cutbacks. The direct consequence to consumers (and energy professionals) is that the results of research conducted by DOE and others will be more difficult to obtain. This will probably mean less implementation of newly available energy efficiency measures and possibly more duplication of effort.
So, is half a billion too much or too little for federal energy efficiency programs? There are two principal tests for setting levels of expenditures. First, can the private sector take up the slack if the government cuts funding? Second, is the money better spent elsewhere in the government? For example, is one B-2 bomber (which costs about as much money as the cutback would save) a better use of the money? These are the kinds of questions that you, as a citizen, must address. When you decide, contact your representatives and tell them what you think. Now.
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