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Governor Lepage is Wrong About Audits
Audits Prevent Ponzi Schemes
Governor LePage made news last week when he called energy audits a "ponzi scheme." He went on to say that “conservation is very, very good if you do it properly.” On the latter point, I agree with this statement by our Governor. Conservation is indeed very, very good and has shown to be a powerful stimulus for the economy. But he's dead wrong in his critique of energy audits.
The average home efficiency project results in an efficiency improvement of 30%. This works out to be an average savings of $850 per household. The efficiency Maine rebate program helped get 2,500 homes weatherized. That is the equivalent of $2,125,000 dollars of savings for homeowners. Those savings are an annual injection into the local economy. In five years those homes will generate over $10,000,000 for local businesses due to their energy savings. What a bonus for our struggling economy.
There is another tremendous economic benefit for the state due to the work that was done to upgrade the homes. Each of these 2,500 houses took, on average, 4 workers 2 days to complete the efficiency upgrades. That translates to 5,000 days of work for 4 contractors.
Mr. Lepage is way off base with calling the audits a “ponzi scheme.” They are the complete opposite. A proper audit thoroughly analyzes a building and identifies the most efficient strategies for saving the most money. The days of just piling up fiberglass and calling it good are done. Properly weatherizing a home is now a very technical process. It includes testing the efficiency of heating systems, doing a safety analysis of the air exchange rate of a home, calculating the efficiency improvements of various upgrades, accurately identifying the air leakage areas, the amount of leakage, and the amount of leakage that is healthy for the home. An auditor uses advanced computer modeling software to create a computer model of a home which helps the auditor accurately design a weatherization plan that is custom made for that home.
The auditor also serves as the verification expert on whether the homes completed efficiency work is satisfactory. The auditor can compare the building leakage before and after the work is done by using qualitative analysis methods. The auditor also can verify that the insulation was installed properly with the use of an infrared camera and blower door. With an auditor you are not just rolling the dice and hoping for the best. You have a qualified professional in your corner looking out for your interests.
The verification process also serves as the means of making sure that homes are not weatherized in an unhealthy manner. If homes become too tight they can develop what is called, “Sick House Syndrome.” This over tightness can cause wood rot and mold growth resulting in respiratory problems. The worst affect of a too tight house is the potential for back drafting a combustion appliance when a bathroom or kitchen vent fan is turned on with the result being carbon monoxide poisoning or death.
Currently there are two models of efficiency work. The One Stop Shopping is one model and the other is the independent method. The One Stop method has the same company do the audit, recommend upgrades, do the upgrades, then verify if the work was done properly. The independent method has one company do the audit, another do the work, and the audit company verifying that the work was done properly. No matter which one the homeowner chooses an audit is vital for successful efficiency work.
Properly weatherizing a building is the most cost effective way to decrease fuel consumption and fight high energy costs. Using less energy saves the most money. Let’s put Mainer’s back to work, guarantee a yearly financial boom for the state, and help us all decrease our fuel costs. The audit is the best way to avoid a “ponzi scheme” when undertaking efficiency upgrades.