Almost two years ago I posted a blog about the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA); ARRA, or the “Stimulus Bill”, has gotten pilloried in the media as a colossal failure and waste of taxpayer dollars. But if you would take the time to do a little research, you would see that most of the coverage has been far from the truth.

Because of ARRA’s support for DOE’s Weatherization Assistance Program, well over 1 million homes were weatherized across the country and are now saving an average of $400 a year on energy costs. Fifteen thousand jobs were created in the weatherization field alone and the economy was stimulated—the whole point of the “Stimulus Bill” in the first place. Auditors estimated that the waste for the more than $800-billion Stimulus was only 0.001% of the total.

Tragically, there hasn’t been enough support to keep those 15-thousand workers in jobs. Blame that on the President, on the Congress, Wall Street, or on the economy as a whole and you would be hitting the mark—all of the above.

But I drive to work through the fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel, and drive home through the original two, and my commute home is not nearly the headache it used to be, thanks in large part to ARRA. Look around wherever you live and do a little research and you will come up with similar stories.

More good news keeps trickling in. This from Neal De Snoo, Energy Program Officer in the Office of Energy and Sustainable Development of the city of Berkeley:

The City of Berkeley, California completed an evaluation of a Federal Stimulus-funded residential energy upgrade program. The analysis of actual energy consumption from participating homes before and after improvements shows that major energy improvement projects provide benefits to the community and homeowners that exceed the costs. The study is based on a set of 99 of the 142 single-family homes that participated in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) and PG&E ratepayer-funded Berkeley Money for Energy Efficiency (ME2) program between 2010 and 2012.

Here are some highlights:

  • The 99 homes analyzed realized on average an 18% reduction in their energy use.
  • At a combined cost between households (app. $450,000) and the federal government (app. $240,000) of approximately $690,000, the city gained about $350,000 in home improvements, $250,000 in wages, and $467,000 in utility bill reduction.

The report is available here.


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Comment by Neal De Snoo on March 28, 2014 at 12:28pm

In response to Tom Conlon’s question, the $1.1 million EECBG grant included multifamily and commercial upgrades as well.  Development and other soft costs (program design, IT systems, reporting, adminsitration, evaluation, etc.) attributable to the 99 homes in the study was $108,000. 

Comment by Jim Gunshinan on March 26, 2014 at 1:14pm

We could go on forever citing examples of failures and successes. My original question was about the Berkeley program. You accused it of being "crap" and I asked for your evidence. The articles you mentioned are much more nuanced than you let on. They are all snapshots in time. And the articles point to the economy as one of the most critical factors in the success or failure of the local and state programs.

I found my information through several reports and articles, but the biggest source of information was the book The New New Deal by Michael Grunwald. What I learned is that, for the most part, the success or failure of ARRA depends on the politics of the person making that judgement. 

The program was under a tremendous amount of scrutiny in certain states. Go to any construction site anywhere and at any time and you could find enough evidence of waste and mismanagement to create a "scandal". In my best judgement, after countless hours of reading, talking with people involved, both for and against the program, and with my own experience as an engineer, I judged that the program was an overall success. Others may come up with different conclusions.

Comment by John Redmond on March 25, 2014 at 10:04pm

"Auditors estimated that the waste for the more than $800-billion Stimulus was only 0.001% of the total."

How many examples do you need, Jim?

How about this one in Seattle that was 4x the size of the funds that Greensboro received?

Will Illlinois work for you? You know the one where 14 out of every 15 weatherization jobs failed inspection?

Maybe Tennessee?

These are just four programs that stunk on ice. I was part of the Greensboro Better Buildings, and I am still owed $21,000 on worked performed under the program. There was no economic stimulus at all. In fact, it almost put two contractors into bankruptcy, and where it started with 14 contractors doing work, it ended with 7, because the other dropped out due to not getting paid in a timely fashion, including me. Those funds were available over a 4 year period, and about 600 of those homes were low-income apartment units counted as homes.

We were going into homes where the AC was running full-throttle with the windows open. We entered homes they wanted weatherized that had no heat. Where is the savings you see from this investment?

You are the one here who touted Berkley's numbers as credible; I have shown solid evidence that they are crap. Please cite your examples (not your opinion) that they were correct. 

Comment by Jim Gunshinan on March 25, 2014 at 2:01pm

I read the article about the Greensboro experience. Very disappointing, but not a complete waste of time, in my opinion. It did provide a short term economic boost, which was one of the goals. It did provide energy saving upgrades to more than 1,000 homes. But like you said, the followthrough in the private marketplace was terrible.

Why do you say the Berkeley numbers are "fuzzy"? Do you have any basis for that claim?

Comment by John Redmond on March 24, 2014 at 11:38pm

I would love to know  where these fuzzy numbers come from as our program in NC was nothing but a complete waste of tax payers money with nothing permanent to show for. Practically no jobs were "created" and the ones that were were administrative city positions that were laid off as soon as the program ended.

It was purely a program where blind bureaucrats led the educated and trained in the field with useless red tape that not only accomplished nothing with the grant money but hindered us as contractors from doing profitable work that we get paid for in a timely fashion in the private sector.

Enjoy the true statistics surrounding our program...

Comment by Jim Gunshinan on March 24, 2014 at 5:23pm

Hi Tom. I'll make sure your comment, and others, will be put before the study authors.

Comment by Tom Conlon on March 24, 2014 at 5:12pm

I only skimmed this, but I couldn't find the actual cost of the program ("The cost of developing and administering the pilot are not included".-p9) or the actual (1st year post installation) total kWh and Therm savings for the 99 studied. Only savings averages seem to be reported, and these fall within a very wide range. Apparently 12% actually had increased consumption.

Points though for artful reporting and bold policy assertions. Impressive.

Comment by Jim Gunshinan on March 24, 2014 at 2:16pm

Sorry everyone about the non-working link. I fixed it and you should be able to read the report now. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

Comment by Kari Sauder on March 24, 2014 at 2:07pm

Well, I'm sure ARRA is still working...somewhere....but is Northern PA it's tough going -- tougher going than it was before ARRA.  Plenty of homes were weatherized and saving $$ true but as the first person trained for State Wx auditing on a PA State Dept of Labor and Industry voucher, the last 2 years have been not very unproductive.  In 2011-2012 working for the local WAP agency (one of the top agencies in the state), I was averaging as many audits/ mon. as the best permanent hire auditor they had before ARRA kicked in.  In less than a year, there was no work for me there and shortly after I was let go most of the permanent hires were dismissed -- some after working 15 years.  The agency is mainly working on flood recovery stuff now.  I work at including energy efficiency to jobs my small construction company does but can't even suggest tax incentives for Energy Star windows, doors & heating systems because Washington DC let them all expire (except for wind, solar & geothermal) -- so frustrating.  All that good training not being used.

Comment by Ed Vine on March 24, 2014 at 12:00pm

Great note. It would be good for others to share good ARRA news. 

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