Why Home Star Will Not Pass In 2011

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As much as those of us cheering for government assistance in the home energy efficiency industry don't want to admit it, the Home Star program (aka ‘Cash for Caulkers') looks like it will not make it through the legislature in 2011. Despite support from the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB), the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and about 3000 other organizations nationwide, conflicting political ideologies and financial interests on the Hill get in the way of progress once again.

Nonetheless, the movement to put contractors back to work making existing home inventories more environmentally friendly and energy efficient will push forward to address this ‘low hanging fruit' (we're taking suggestions for better terms...this one's gone cliché) of green technology adoption.


In case you get asked "Why did Home Star fail?" or "Will Home Star pass in 2011?" here's the talking points so you can sound like an expert:

  • $6B is a big number even in good times. Despite Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance (REEP) legislation being included in the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act passed by the House of Representatives, the Building Efficiency title of American Clean Energy Leadership Act (ACELA) reported out by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and investments secured in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), getting signatures on checks is always more difficult than getting them on lengthy documents that will be dissected at a later date.
  • With no available cash in reserves (or 'payfor'/'paygo' as Washingtonians say), ugly words like debt and inflation keep bubbling to the surface. Supporting Home Star means increasing the money supply and/or borrowing from treasury bonds or other countries. That may fly in times of panic, but not in the doldrums of a dreary recovery.
  • The newly empowered GOP isn't fond of union-friendly prevailing wage (or ‘Davis Bacon') provisions. The more labor-sympathetic DNC pushed hard to require that private retrofitting projects receiving more than $2,000 in federal funding pay contractors higher wages than they would likely receive in the free market. This is a classic ‘each side's experts disagree and the majority wins' situation.

  • Sometimes environmentalists need to curb their passion a bit and leave the political arm wrestling to professionals. In this case it was the extension of the "what does ‘green' or ‘sustainable' really mean" dilemma into the auditing standards that dictate what retrofitting projects qualify for rebates and to what extent. As standards become more stringent, adoption rates plummet from increased confusion and expense, and thus Home Star would be lame out of the gate greenies got all their wishes. Small victories are better than none at all.
  • New home builders don't want older homes to compete on even terrain as property appraisal standards increasingly shift towards taking efficiency into consideration. By the time we get back to actually building new homes again, energy efficiency will be mentioned in the same conversation about a home's valuation as roofing soundness and the number of bathrooms. New homes are inherently more energy efficient, so politically connected homebuilding giants will do all they can to keep older housing stock from catching up.

The green industry should take some crucial lessons from the current lobbying failure of Home Star, especially the importance of having a unified voice in Washington. Renewable energy groups and energy efficiency organizations need to consolidate their messaging with the understanding that small victories for everyone beat no victories for anyone and that big oil's institutional hooks are dug in deeper than even the direst skeptics care to acknowledge.


The GreenTechBuyer team is confident that similar legislation supporting residential energy saving project subsidies will pass in 2012, likely with lessons learned from the points above. Business and commercial retrofits will probably get more help too. We're not policy wonks, but it just makes too much sense to seal building envelopes and install more efficient systems and appliances for the government not to help. 2011 will still be the year home energy efficiency emerges from the dusty afterthought of more shiny solar and wind projects to a prominent standard practice of sustainable property management. Home energy audit and efficiency pros will simply have to explain the financial and environmental benefits of retrofits to cash-strapped homeowners in a more compelling manner without the crutch of subsidies to back them up, and coordination will have to improve within an industry where everyone is trying to do well by doing good.


Caulkers, window replacers, weather strippers, insulation installers, HVAC specialists and the like, all is not lost, but your bonanza will have to wait. For now, let's keep improving our sales pitch, both to consumers and politicians.

 

Brian Koles is the founde of GreenTechBuyer, a web service that educates homeowners and real estate pros about green technology and energy savings, and then matches them with top local companies to get proposals for a specific green technology project.

 

Learn about your optiosn for green technology and energy savings at www.GreentechBuyer.org

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