Remember How Momma Warned You About Those Slick-Talking Men Who Promised to Repeal the Boom-Bust Cycle?


Well, momma was warning you about…Barack Obama! This is what the president said Tuesday at an Arlington Alexandria, Va. Home Depot: 

From the moment we took office, even as we took immediate steps to deal with the financial crisis, we began investing in newer, stronger foundations for lasting growth—one that would free us from the cycle of boom and bust that has been so painful; one that can create good jobs and opportunities for a growing middle class.  That's at the heart of our efforts, and clean energy can be a powerful engine for creating that kind of growth.

Freeing us from the boom-bust cycle and creating green jobs! Sounds like a China Tom Friedman win-win-win!

But the fact of the matter is energy efficiency is a perfect example of how this can be a win-win. 

Close enough. Anyway, what else in the speech sounded too good to be true? This part, about the never-ending economic wonders of retrofitting:

[M]ost of this stuff is going to pay for itself.  You put in the insulation, you weatherize your home now, you will make up that money in a year or two years or three years, and then everything after that is just gravy.

Question for the homeowners in the audience: Is that even remotely true? Seems to me that if a category of home-improvement investment was producing gravy by the third year max, it wouldn't, in Obama's verb-tense-challenged formulation, "require some imagination and some foresight, and it requires us to all work together."

Thankfully, the president pointed in his speech to a handy new document, prepared by Joe Biden himself, entitled "Recovery Through Retrofit" [PDF]. Surely in there we can learn how many years a good weatherization takes to pay off?

No such luck (at least according to my quick perusal). Instead, we are presented with power-point slides like this:

Barriers to a National Retrofit Market

Despite the economic and environmental benefits of improving home energy efficiency, a series of barriers have prevented a self-sustaining retrofit market from forming, including:

1. Access to Information: Consumers do not have access to straightforward and reliable information on home energy retrofits that they need to make informed decisions.

2. Access to Financing: Homeowners face high upfront costs and many are concerned that they will be prevented from recouping the value of their investment if they choose to sell their home. The upfront costs of home retrofit projects are often beyond the average homeowner's budget.

3. Access to Skilled Workers: There are currently not enough skilled workers and green entrepreneurs to expand weatherization and efficiency retrofit programs on a national scale.

Wait, what? If the economic benefits were easily attainable by Year Three, doesn't that imply that the cost of retrofitting is no greater than (current monthly energy bill x 36)-(post-retrofit monthly energy bill x 36), and therefore probably not "beyond the average homeowner's budget" nor a cause for concern "that they will be prevented from recouping the value of their investment"? Sounds like the kind of question that "straightforward and reliable information on home energy retrofits" could provide! Let's see, how to achieve that one?

Currently, there are a variety of energy performance rating tools in the home retrofit market, each one supplying different information and performance predictions. The lack of a standard rating causes great confusion for consumers. Without some level of standardization combined with an effort to increase recognition and awareness, energy efficiency retrofits will likely remain a niche product, keeping consumer demand low and investors out of the market. […]

The new home performance label should be accompanied by a national marketing campaign to increase consumer awareness and expand the demand for home energy retrofits. This campaign should build on the marketing that Federal Government already does in conjunction with the ENERGY STAR® label on products and the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® program for whole-home retrofits. The national marketing campaign will help homeowners find reliable sources of information on how to improve their homes and quality, skilled contractors to do the work.

The Department of Energy (DOE) is currently working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other Agencies to design a standard energy performance measure and related tools to meet this need. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) will work to link the new energy performance measure to its redesigned Energy Efficient Mortgage products. DOE will promote adoption of a national energy performance measure through its advisory role to States and will encourage the use of a common national standard.

By all means, read Biden's whole report for your year's supply of revolving weatherization loans, DOE-funded "model PACE projects," and–it almost goes without saying–"A uniform set of national standards to qualify energy efficiency and retrofit workers and industry training providers." Me, I'd prefer to know how many years it would take for the weatherization on, say, a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom, 1,400 sq. ft house to "pay for itself." Only then can we ever really begin to assess how the national marketing campaign for our new industry standard of government-certified retrofitters will, if ever, begin creating gravy for anyone not currently riding the gravy train.