Calling All Energy-Conservation Entrepreneurs

As required by newly enacted state law, the State Corporation Commission is holding a “proceeding” to determine if state electricity conservation goals — cutting electricity consumption, based on 2006 levels, by 10 percent by 2022 — can be achieved cost effectively.

The SCC staff will invite all the usual suspects: electric and gas utilities, independent power producers, consumer groups, environmental groups and the others whose lobbyists make themselves known. The SCC, in all likelihood, will not go out of its way to notify entrepreneurial companies in the business of electricity conservation who aren’t large enough to hire lobbyists and whose business model is not predicated on rent-seeking behavior.

One prospect comes immediately to mind. Richmond-based Tridium, where my wife works, specializes in creating software platforms that allow proprietary softwares controlling a wide variety of devices to communicate with one another. One of Tridium’s primary markets is building automation, and one of the driving forces behind building automation is energy conservation. Tridium is not a little jinky start-up. It was acquired last year by Honeywell, a major manufacturer of automated controls, and it does business globally. My wife recently returned from a business trip to Dubai and the Netherlands.

Tridium knows electric conservation. Tridium knows how to reduce electric consumption on a large scale in commercial and industrial settings. Tridium should have a seat at the table. Whether the company, which is in fast-growth mode, will be able to spare an employee to engage in months of jaw-jaw with professional lobbyists is another question entirely.

How many other businesses are out there whose business models are built on saving money by reducing electric consumption? How many vendors of energy-saving appliances and gadgets are out there? How many of them will offer any input into the achievability of reducing electric consumption by a modest 2/3 of one percent per year? How will their absence affect the goals set by the SCC?

If you work for a company in the business of electric conservation, you need to be part of the process. Click here to find out more information.

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44 responses to “Calling All Energy-Conservation Entrepreneurs”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    According to the coal industry, you are UnAmerican.

  2. Waldo Avatar

    You know whose business model isn’t built on reducing electric consumption?

    The power companies’.

    Unless that changes, I see little reason to expect electrical consumption to go down.

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Maybe the new entrepreneurs are “Hygrids”

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    …”can be achieved cost effectively”

    what is the criteria for “cost effectively”?

    say.. someone wanted to propose the use of Smart Meters. Would they have to show that the cost of the meters would not add additional costs?

    I suspect that no matter who gets invited or not.. that the criteria
    for “cost effectiveness” and the burden of demonstrating cost effectiveness will make it difficult for anyone but the current providers to make headway.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    How about we propose to pay folks to not waste electricity like Ray advocates?


    say.. for every kilowatt they use below the average – they get a rebate – and it gets paid for by adding extra charges to anyone who uses more than average.

    Ray – what say you?

  6. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Repost, it is getting late…

    All good thoughts but…

    We all need to take a step back and re-examine the whole question of “growth.”

    Population, consumption, GNP, Natural Capital… everything.

    As we noted some time ago (10 Dec 2006) in “A New Metric for Citizen Well-Being” the current trajectory is unsustainable and a slightly less comsumptive energy use profile is slightly less unsustainable but still unsustainable.

    Larry is right, the governance practitioners will hide behind “cost effective” and produce another report like the one on “Urban Policy.”

    The real issue is that without that New Metric no one raise the cost of energy to its true value. Only then will there be a real incentive to save.


  7. Freedom Works Avatar
    Freedom Works

    “…the things we “know” are mostly myths. They explain why demand will never go down, why most of what we think of as “energy waste” actually benefits us; why more efficient cars, engines, and bulbs will never lower demand, and why energy supply is infinite….”

    EM Risse – you need to cheer up! Humans are learning to harness this infinite supply of energy in new and exciting ways.

    A better life is sustainable for billions more…

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m sure there is some confusion here.

    Is FW and the MI saying that for any individual person that his/her needs/demands for energy are .. infinite?

    no matter how much energy is available – individuals will use it all and demand more?

    Isn’t this like saying that no matter how much free ice cream there might be – that it will never be enough?

    Are we advocating that electricity be provided free in any amount to anyone who wants it and that taxpayers will pay the total bill as part of their willingness to insure prosperity?

    I’m a little thick sometimes so perhaps this can be explained in simplier terms for those that can’t grasp this concept.

  9. Groveton Avatar

    Interesting commentary from Mr. Risse:

    “We all need to take a step back and re-examine the whole question of “growth.”

    Population, consumption, GNP, Natural Capital… everything.”.

    I am presently in the middle of a 7 day trip to Beijing. Part business, part leisure (although with wife and kids in tow – the whole trip is financed by me). Wow. Northern Virginia on some kind of uber steroids.

    HArd to believe, with more than 15 million people, Beijing is the THIRD largest city in china.

    This kind of scale and growth redefines the problems discussed on this board.

    Boundless economic opportunity freeing people from many regions within China to pursue economic opportunity here in Beijing.

    Proto-capitalisim resulting in vast standard of living increases.

    Vast increases in education.

    Pollution so bad you can literally feel it in your eyes.

    A happy, energized population with great optimism for the future – including the 2008 Olympics.

    Congestion to the point that traffic can stand still for hours despite unbelievable new road building.

    15M people with 3M cars and parking is getting scarce fast.

    People riding bikes to work with pick axes strapped to their backs going by Ferrari dealerships.

    An energy and level of organization not seen elsewhere in Asia. However, some small percentage (10%) of the population sleeping in trucks by the side of the road or staning in groips and talking away the afternoon. THis is a sense of primal energy with some people temporarily stranded while plans “work themselves out”.

    Nobody yelling at each other.

    Horns are used to avoid accidentas as opposed to being a statement of principle like in New York.

    The obviously rich cheek to jowl with the obviously poor.

    Construction everywhere. All high density, all mixed use. Construction cranes as far as the eye can see.

    People in motion. Walking, riding bicycles, riding motor bikes, driving cars, driving trucks, taking buses, taking trains. A city in motion. A city with a purpose.

    Dirt and dust. Piles of bricks and shingles in front of the road. Buildings being ton down, buildingd being built up.

    Unregistered, illegal people from other areas working secretly in Beijing. Taking the jobs they can get in hope of sending money back home.

    Radio stations playing “learn English” programs all day long. Today’s key word was “hurl”.

    So, how does it all look?

    Like a thing of beauty being made.

    People working hard.

    Peopole prospering.

    People succeeding.

    People winning.

    Everybody talking about the wonders of economic growth.

    People complaining about the pollution and congestion but handling it like troupers.

    People with a shared mission of national success. Willing to pay the prices that need to be paid.

    People like those in the United States in the 1950s.

    While we are contemplating our navels and engaged in synical big party politics, they are taking over the world. Without firing a shot.

    We’d better plan on either being more like them or working for them.

    That will be our choice.

  10. Freedom Works Avatar
    Freedom Works

    “Gadgets ‘threaten energy savings’

    Flat-screen TVs are more energy intensive than older models

    The growing popularity of hi-tech devices, such as flat-screen TVs and digital radios, threaten to undermine efforts to save energy, a report says.”

    Huber’s point is more energy is going to be used in the future. And it is not a problem, because the energy supply is a “bottomless well.”

  11. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Freedom Works, Yes, energy is potentially an endless well. When fossil fuel supplies run low, we’ll have moved on to solar, wind and nuclear. Some day, we’ll have fusion-powered nuclear plants and huge solar arrays circling the Earth, capturing sunlight and beaming down micro-energy to the planet. The energy is potentially endless. However, the cost of capturing, transforming and distributing that energy will be expensive. Thus, energy, though abundant in the universe, will never be economically free.

    I don’t think the United States is “about to run out of energy.” I do believe that we are entering an era of higher energy costs — both costs that are captured in the “price” of energy charged at the gas pump or in your electric bill, and environmental costs that prices do not yet capture.

    In a free market economy, higher energy costs will alter the cost equation of many other things, including transportation. We have spent more than 50 years building a transportation infrastructure predicated on cheap energy. Energy will become less cheap in the future.

    Furthermore, we are hitting the limits of the idea that everyone can drive a car, alone, anywhere he/she wants, whenever he/she wants. When absolutely everyone in society (over 16) owns a car and drives solo, it is physically impossible to provide as much roadway and parking capacity required. Something has to give.

    Even as a fervent believer in the power of free markets, I cannot wish that reality away.

  12. Freedom Works Avatar
    Freedom Works


    I agree with you change is coming.

    The real issue is whether society will be organized based on the billions of constantly changing voluntary choices of individual consumers and producers, or will it be organized based on a top down planned economy controlled by whatever small elite happens to be in power at the moment.

    You wrote: “We have spent more than 50 years building a transportation infrastructure predicated on cheap energy.”

    The bigger problem is we have spent more than 50 years building human settlement patterns based on top down planned land use controls, i.e. zoning. Without the zoning fads of the past, more humans would already be living in more efficient settlement patterns.

    Transportation will survive higher energy prices because we have only scratched the surface on fuel efficiency. Energy costs could be many multiples higher than they are today, and hybrids or all electric vehicles would be just as economical per mile as where most consumers are today.

    This article shows where we are headed.

    The Toyota Prius costs $9.27 for fuel for a 200 mile trip. It currently costs me more than 5 times that in my car. The Tesla Roadster will make a 200 mile trip for only $4.40, one-tenth my cost.

    107,000 people in the United States bought a Prius last year. As more people shift to hybrids and all electric, the savings are so dramatic, the transportation congestion crisis could worsen. Driving will be so cheap!

    You wrote: “Energy will become less cheap in the future.”

    It remains to be seen whether this is really true in the long run. New discoveries in solar energy conversion point the way to a future where solar generated electricity will be as cheap as your average price for electricity on the grid is today. In any case, with the increased fuel efficiency of new technologies, energy will be cheaper in the future in terms of productive output, even as more energy is consumed overall.

    It would seem to me then that the real mobility crisis has been caused by a combination of government zoning controls which has artificially spread the population out and the hidden subsidies the interstate system provides for long distance commuting.

    Peak hour congestion tolling of all limited access highways is the only way to maintain a free market while solving this crisis. User pays makes growth a positive force, instead of a negative. This could be implemented fairly quickly.

    It will take much longer after the removal of artificial zoning restrictions to rebuild a functional human settlement pattern. It can happen voluntarily over time, if the government will get out of the way.

    “Something has to give.” Yes, failed government controls and “free” commuting corridors. The rest will take care of itself.

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    somewhere.. someone has the stats for per capita energy use – say over the last 20 years in the US.

    I’ll stipulate that per-capita energy use is going up in developing countries but what is the trend in industrialized countries?

    Let’s say for the sake of argument that major breakthroughs are made for solar and that we all start driving plug-ins recharged by solar.

    What exactly would be the effect of this on commuting?

    What effect would a solar-powered world have on settlement patterns?

    what effect would a solar-powered world have on JOBS .. in the NoVa region?

    People don’t commute byond NoVa because of failed government controls – not unless you believe that the “controls” unsed in the exerban commuting areas are somehow less “restrictive” than the controls in Fairfax and NoVa.

    The “restrictive controls” are all more or less the same unless one believes that for some reason that NoVa outlaws single family dwellings on one acre and Stafford/Spotsylvania do not.

    If the claim is that “restrictive controls” are the evil – how about coming up with some examples where the abscence of such controls yield different commuting and settlement patterns.

    Surely .. there is some place in the world where a “good” model sans those onerous restrictions exists .. for all to see a better path.

  14. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    They will not answer the questions you raise but the numbers you seek are at:

    Enjoy. They tell a freightening story.

    Freedom Works:

    What a sad comentary on the Fourth of July.

    After 231 years there are still those who believe in Big Rock Candy Mountain and the Jacksonian ethic of consumption.

    Jared Diamond wrote a book about folks like you, it is called Collapse.


    Interesting observations.

    Sounds a lot like my maternal Grandfathers description of his business in 1928.

    He died pennyless.


  15. Freedom Works Avatar
    Freedom Works

    Larry wrote: “People don’t commute byond NoVa because of failed government controls – not unless you believe that the “controls” unsed in the exerban commuting areas are somehow less “restrictive” than the controls in Fairfax and NoVa.”

    Larry, the counties could be equally or even more restrictive in their zoning policies. Arlington ran out of land. Then Fairfax County ran out of land at currently allowable zoning. Half of the land in Fairfax County was wasted on 1, 2, and 5 acre minimum lot zoning. If you add in ½ acre and 1/3 acre zoning, most of Fairfax was wastefully developed. This dysfunctional spread out single use development pattern was mandated by misguided zoning policies, not the free market.

    As Fairfax built out at artificially low densities, development in Loudoun and Prince William exploded. Artificial growth controls in those counties only serve to spread the development even further.

    Over 60,000 people commute from the west every day to jobs in Tysons Corner. Why don’t those people live in Tysons Corner, or in communities close enough to avoid a limited access roadway commute? Blame the government’s zoning policies. Fairfax County wanted the tax revenue from commercial development, without the “costs” associated with more housing. Most of those new employees were and are forced to commute from Loudoun to find housing. The areas immediately west and north of Tysons that would normally have provided a mix of higher density housing were put off limits to any such development.

    You wrote: “If the claim is that “restrictive controls” are the evil – how about coming up with some examples where the absence of such controls yield different commuting and settlement patterns.”

    Fairfax County granted just such an absence of zoning controls to Robert Simon to build Reston. The settlement pattern in Reston is clearly far different than the areas around Tysons. In fact, all of the residents of Loudoun would easily fit in 4 or 5 more Restons that could have been built in this area. Likewise, all of the population of Prince William, Stafford, etc. would comfortably fit in the areas of southwest Fairfax County that were down zoned to 5 acre minimum lot sizes.

    Removing zoning restrictions on the construction of more dense settlement patterns is only half of the equation. Most Restonians commute elsewhere to work, despite the fact that there are more jobs than working residents there. This is partly a function of the fact that Reston is the first affordable housing opportunity west of Tysons because of the artificially limited housing supply in and around Tysons Corner.

    The other half of the equation is the well known “tragedy of the commons.” If the freeways are “free” the only limiting factor to ration their use is the time cost of sitting in congestion. Rationing limited resources by price is far more efficient in preventing their over use. Even the Dulles Toll Road is operated inefficiently. Tolls should be higher in peak commuting hours to minimize congestion.

    Rationing highways by price protects individual freedom and allows a community to grow in a fair way. Toll roads that make a profit will generate money for more transportation infrastructure, lessening the impact of growth on congestion. Commuters who do not like the tolls will get a job closer to where they live, or will move closer to their work in one of the new dwelling units now available with the removal of zoning restrictions.

  16. Freedom Works Avatar
    Freedom Works


    The link did not work so I could not read the “frightening story.”

    It is sad that 231 years after the first 4th of July, there are still so many who bemoan individual liberty. It is the totalitarian societies that are collapsing. You can read how “Collapse collapses into claptrap” here:

    Apart from that, please cheer up on this great holiday. You and I agree that habitable land is a scarce resource on earth and should be used wisely if life on earth is to be sustainable for humans.

    Having watched the destruction brought on by wasteful government policies, I trust the free market and individual choice to do a better job.

    It is a given that earth’s population will most likely increase by several more billion before leveling off. That is out of your control, as it should be. Where will they live? Will they live in more spread out single use peanut butter suburban subdivisions gobbling up millions more acres of land?

    I would submit that in a free market, more of them will live in dense settlement patterns. Why? Because more density is almost always the highest and best use for property owners, developers, and infrastructure providers. There are exceptions, and the richest people will always be able to waste what they want. At least in a free market, the wasteful land practices of large lot low density residential living will not be subsidized by zoning restrictions that artificially limit competition for scarce resources.

    100 working poor people could pool their land acquisition dollars and buy 1 acre for a 50-unit apartment building next to Tysons Corner, except zoning limits development to 1 housing unit per acre. If each working poor couple paid only $40,000 toward land costs, they could bid 2 million dollars for that acre of land. Instead some rich CEO and spouse buy the lot for 1 million dollars and build a 12,000 square foot mansion.

    The CEO gets subsidized at the expense of the landowner who is forbidden by law to sell the land for its most productive use. The CEO is also subsidized by the 50 working poor couples who are denied the opportunity to compete for land on which to build housing. Such land in or near major employment centers is clearly a scarce resource. The working poor are shut out by law from competing for the right to live in vast areas of the Washington DC region.

    All of this leads to the “Autonomobility” and energy crisis you so decry.

    Are we really so far apart?

  17. Groveton Avatar

    The Zip Code for Tyson’s Corner is 22102.

    A quick trip to shows just under 200 residences either for sale or rent in that zip code.

    89 of the 200 are either condos or townhomes – mostly condos.

    The belief that Fairfax County has zoned all the land around Tyson’s Corner in 1 – 5 acre minimum lots is a myth.

    This myth can be debunked by using a simple internet query or by driving through Tyson’s Corner and seeing all the multi-unit dwellings.

  18. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Those who claim that there is no limit to accessible energy and no reason to be concerned about the trejectory of consumption have as much credibility as Al-Zawahiri.

    In case you missed it he says that the defeat of the West is imminent.

    Groveton is right there are a many condos for sale near Tysons Corner.

    What there is not, however are actions by the public or private sector to evolve Balanced Communities.

    Without Balanced Communities there is no hope of evolving a sustainable future.


  19. Get Real Avatar
    Get Real

    I typed in 22102 at Groveton’s link. Only 200 homes available for sale or rent in the Tysons zip code at Weichert. With 60,000 commuters coming in from the west, that really helps. The median price for those 200 housing units is $850,000, and that is for a townhouse. I’m sure Groveton finds that very affordable for the average worker.

    The most expensive home in the 22102 zip code comes in at $7,990,000 on 3 acres.

    Check out the zip codes to the north and west of Tysons Corner to see more mega mansions on large lots.

  20. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    interesting thread.

    If Reston was/is the “right” model then why did it not become a template for future development in Fairfax?

    Also – if the claim that by being restrictive, Fairfax “forced” the growth to the outer jurisdictions then wouldn’t the “correct” response for the outer jurisdictions to either have MORE restrictive policies that would have forced the growth back to Fairfax – WHERE THE JOBS ARE?

    But I think the wheels come off of the car.. when we claim .. that Fairfax is essentially unique with regard to it’s “onerous” land-use restrictions.

    Look around the country at the urban areas and their exurban commuting jursidictions.

    Is the claim that the problem here is Fairfax’s fault and all those other places are “different” and they don’t have “restrictions” that caused them to grow.. very much like this area has “grown”?

    I don’t think so folks.

    let’s have some more dialogue and get to the “real” issues. .here.

  21. Groveton Avatar

    Get Real –

    The housing market around Tyson’s / McLean still seems pretty tight to me. And 22102 includes a part of McLean that is really expensive. Woodlea Mill is the name of the really expensive sub-division as I recall. My only point is that there have been condos and townhomes in Tyson’s for as long as I can remember. Fairfax County does have some dysfunctional zoning but the county isn’t all 1 – 5 acre lots.

    EMR –

    American settlement patterns have an underlying economic assumption of predicatble oil prices which rise at around the level of inflation over time. For decades that assumption has held. In the last few years it has not held. The big question is whether the last few years are just another statistical abnormality before oil prices return to their historical levels or something new. I think this is something new. If concerns over global warming don’t push the politicians to add penalty level taxes to energy then China and India’s consumption will raise prices the old fashioned way – through overheated demand. Either way, the old patterns of suburban settlement are going to change.


    Reston was the wrong model for years and years. It was a jobless town where the outlying residents commuted from Reston to Washington, DC or Arlington or (a lucky few) to Tyson’s each and every day. True, there was mixed development – affordable housing alongside single family homes but this was more a social experiment than a successful attempt to get to functional settlement patterns. Columbia, MD was a later, much better planned community.

    Then, about 10 years ago, something funny happened to Reston – the jobs moved into town. Oracle, Microsoft, Accenture, Sallie Mae and on and on. Building after building. Now there was a new job core surrounded by a existing mixed housing area. Reston was reborn. The jobs in Reston didn’t just draw from Reston but from Vienna and Great Falls as well. People who had been commuting to DC and Arlington and Tyson’s were now making the 8 mile trek to their job in Reston – saving a ton in commuting costs and time.

    Reston hasn’t been replicated because it has only recently started to work. And it started to work when the jobs moved into town.

    I live in Great Falls and commute about 7 miles to my office in Reston. Maybe not the perfect mixed use community but a whole lot better than when I lived in McLean and commuted to DC.

    And Larry –

    Horay! It’s certainly not all Fairfax’s fault. First, Fairfax zoned for lots of apartment buildings, condos, townhomes, etc. Even a few trailer parks still on Rt 1 from the Beltway south to Ft Belvoir.

    Second, every other jurisdiction did the same things – at least until the real estate values got so high that it had to be rezoned for multi-use. Didn’t 5th Ave have single family homes on it in the 1880s?

    Third, every metropolitan area faces the same issues (at least the ones which are economically growing) – they all have suburban sprawl.

    Fourth, at a certain density level (like Arlington along Wilson Blvd) it always turns into the mixed use, work / residence enclave that EMR envisions. All it takes is:

    1. The core city to keep growing thus making adjacent land more and more valuable.
    2. Municipalities willing to rezone existing structures to multi-dwelling units.
    3. Homeowners willing to sell their single family homes to developers operating under the new zoning at a huge profit.
    4. Somebody to do the traffic planning work and transit planning for the new, denser area.

  22. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Groveton –

    Excellent verbiage!

    re: Reston

    did it ultimately happen as a result that was INTENDED to happen or was it an accident… or was it invetible per your last sentence?

  23. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    Check out the 1958 Fairfax County Comp Plan and the early 60s Virginia Subregiona Plans.

    There was compact (we call it “within the Clear Edge, contigous Balanced Communities”) inside R=8 and four Planned New Communities at Reston, Centreville, Burke and Lorton.

    The reason Reston or other places did not evolve as Balanced Communities has nothing to do with how good the plan for Reston was.

    It has to do with the same forces we outline in the comments after the above post on CHESTERFIELD MARGINAL NOTES post.


  24. Freedom Works Avatar
    Freedom Works

    The jobs moved in to Reston in a big way when the Dulles Toll Road got built. The same thing happened in Arlington along the Rosslyn Ballston corridor with the completion of I-66 inside the Beltway.

    Imagine that. Highways helping existing bedroom communities become more balanced live, work, and shop communities.

    Groveton –

    You make a lot of good points about what it takes to evolve existing development patterns to something more along EMR’s model.

    I would argue that zoning makes it far more difficult to evolve a functional balanced community.

    Take Woodlea Mill which is just a few blocks north of Tysons Corner. Without the mandatory minimum zoning of 1 acre lots, that property would have been developed in apartments or townhouses. Instead, thousands more people are commuting from apartments and townhouses in eastern Loudoun County, clogging Route 7 and the Toll Road twice a day.

    Now homes in Woodlea Mill are now selling for over 3 million dollars each. There are approximately 70 homes in Woodlea Mill, all in this price range.

    When do you envision Fairfax County would ever be willing to rezone this property for higher density? Would it even happen in one or two hundred years?

    When would all 70 wealthy families living in this subdivision simultaneously agree to voluntarily sell their homes for higher density development?

    The traffic planning and transportation infrastructure is not hard to do. This property is within walking distance of portions of Tysons including the existing bus transfer station at Spring Hill. The short distance of Spring Hill Road south to Tysons could easily be 4 laned and paid for by the new developer.

    Tysons is already the largest employment and retail concentration in Virginia, and suffers a severe shortage of affordable workforce housing. So the economic value of the underlying land for high density redevelopment is already there, despite 3 million dollar homes.

    Mega mansions become facts on the ground. Low density zoning creates a sense of entitlement among the privileged few who live there that they are forever insulated from the perceived undesirable issues associated with more dense living. And in a voluntary society that believes in private property, they mostly are. This makes it even more important that we understand the destructive effects of low density residential zoning on the future viability of our development patterns.

    Humans have to live somewhere. Had Loudoun, Prince William and the counties even further out adopted zero growth policies, the region would stagnate from skyrocketing housing prices. If the entire country adopted the same mentality, families would have to start doubling up to avoid living in the streets.

    Fairfax County forced a huge proportion of the Tysons workforce to Loudoun. Changing zoning to allow redevelopment of the commercial office building parking lots at Tysons into condos and apartments will help to restore balance.

    It will not end the artificial locational cost subsidy zoning provides those living in Woodlea Mill.

  25. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    We lived in Columbia for 8 years, in Reston for 8 years and in Fairfax Center for 14 years.

    During that time we were involved in the planning, development and management of successful large scale planned developments in twelve states from New York to Texas.

    I am sure your comments are based on what you thought you experienced but many do not track with what we experienced.

    You noted, however, the correnct bottom line:

    Human settlement pattern will change.

    The question is: Will human settlement patterns evolve to be more functional and sustainable or continue the current trajectory?

    Establishing a well informed dialogue will determine that so long as there is still a free market and democratic governance.

    If we do not move in a more sustainable direction, those two — free market and democracy — will be the first to go.

    I suspect that when that fireworks was going off last night most of use looked around to be sure the BOOM was from fireworks.


  26. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “Now homes in Woodlea Mill are now selling for over 3 million dollars each. There are approximately 70 homes in Woodlea Mill, all in this price range.

    When do you envision Fairfax County would ever be willing to rezone this property for higher density? Would it even happen in one or two hundred years?

    When would all 70 wealthy families living in this subdivision simultaneously agree to voluntarily sell their homes for higher density development?”

    I think we are confusing things here.

    Here’s a question.

    In terms of taxes paid and services needed – which does NOT require subsidies – the “wealthy” subdivision or the more dense settlement pattern?

    In terms of infrastructure needed – especially roads – which has more impact on roads – the 70 unit subdivision or the 700 unit denser development?

    If you replicate the “wealthier” version for redevelopment what happens?

    OH>…. you say…it’s not about these things but it is to provide MORE housing for people?

    Fine… are these two goals the same thing or are they actually opposing goals?

  27. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Sorry for the bad link to energy data. I does not work for me either now.

    Just go to (the Energy Information Agency) and look up the Annual Energy Review. 2005 is the latest I could find at the time. Look for Energy Perspective.

    Read it an weep.


  28. Freedom Works Avatar
    Freedom Works


    The 70 unit subdivision displaced the 700 unit subdivision, thus requiring additional transportation infrastructure to get the employees living in 630 units (the differential) from Loudoun to Tysons.

    The Metro extension to Loudoun is over 5 billion and counting. Seems like a massive subsidy to the likes of Woodlea Mill.

  29. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    but if you put the 700 people in a Fairfax Subdivision – it will require a subsidy from the rest of the Fairfax taxpayers to pay for the infrastructure and services that the 700 will not pay the full cost of.


    For the folks who want to work in Fairfax and live in Loudoun, let’s charge them what it costs for them to commute SOLO in a SUV every day at rush hour.

    Why should the taxpayers of Fairfax be given the choice of either subsidizing those folks housing or subsidizing their roads?

    Why not let the folks who take jobs in Fairfax – be responsible for their own housing and mobility costs rather than supporting policies to take money away from other taxpayers to pay for those folks legitimate personal expenses?

  30. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    What would happen if Fairfax adopted a simple policy and that policy was that no matter what kind of home you bought -that each prospective resident would have to pay the full boat costs for infrastructure and services – end of argument.

    One could save money by buying cheaper digs but the only savings would be if the cheaper digs required less services.

    THEN – the county would use the SALES TAX to pay for education.

    If this were done – what exactly would happen to settlement patterns and the various different density arguments?

  31. Freedom Works Avatar
    Freedom Works


    Why force those 700 people to commute a long distance, just so 70 rich households can live on large lots within walking distance of Tysons?

    Restrictive residential zoning is coercion.

    Just what costs do you think Fairfax would be subsidizing that disappear if those 700 people live in Loudoun? Or are you trying to shuffle costs around?

    People living at higher densities pay taxes for services too. High density development may actually be more profitable because there is often a much lower average pupil per unit ratio than single family housing. Sewer and water lines are shorter per unit. Impervious surface footprint per unit is lower, etc. etc.

    What Woodlea Mill does require is a permanent subsidy borne by those who must travel excessive distances to work, and by taxpayers who must pay for more transportation infrastructure.

  32. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    interesting perspectives.

    I think “coercion” is forcing some landowners to pay higher taxes so that others can avoid paying in full for the infrastructure and services that they require.

    Whereas you think “coercion” is government policies to protect taxpayers from having to pay higher taxes for subsidized densities.

    You say Higher Density is more profitable… I ask: “for whom?”

    There is no subsidy for Woodlea Mill. They pay every penny of the infrastructure and services they need and use.

    They have no responsibilities to those that CHOOSE to commute excessive distances to work – rather than buying housing compenserate with their salary and wanting others to help pay for the housing or mobility costs required to assist them in finding “more affordable” housing.

    I admit – the idea of great swathes of enclaves only affordable by the wealthy is not a worthy public policy – but let’s be honest – that increased density is:

    1. – subsidized by other taxpayers

    2. – being put forth as a “solution” that is somehow – deserved by those who choose to drive long distances to get something that they cannot afford for the salary that they do earn.

    3. – the strongest advocates of which (besides the direct beneficiaries) is profit-seeking business interests allied with those that believe that subsidies are better than an open market..

    and that includes even those who claim that they support open markets but bail out of the concept when it comes to housing…and commuting…

    tsk tsk

    again.. I’m not advocating wealthy enclaves but I am saying that we don’t get far.. when we can’t even agree on whether high-dollar subdivisions pay their own freight or not.

    so do .. high dollar subdivisions pay much/most of their infrastructure costs or not?

  33. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    next question.

    If Woodlea Mills is the “wrong” size and harms the public – what is the “right” sized homesite in Fairfax and what would you propose as an incentive/penalty for too extravagant homesites?

    Should we outlaw lot sizes greater than say.. 12 dua? or allow them but place extra fees and taxes on them for “squandering” land?

    all ears here.. 🙂

  34. Anonymous Avatar

    “I am sure your comments are based on what you thought you experienced but many do not track with what we experienced.”

    That’s a new one. Dismiss someone else’s experience as hallucinations.

  35. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “but if you put the 700 people in a Fairfax Subdivision – it will require a subsidy from the rest of the Fairfax taxpayers to pay for the infrastructure and services that the 700 will not pay the full cost of.


    Yes, its wrong.

    Assume your argument is right. How is it that “the rest” of Fairfax taxpayers have services? They got developed once upon a time. If development doesn’t pay its full costs, then those earlier residents must not have paid their full costs either.

    Why, then, having collected their benefits (subsidies) from still earlier residents, do they suddenly get the right to deny later residents, claiming that “new” development doesn;t payits way?

  36. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    how would you know if the earlier residents got their infrastructure for cheap/subsidized?

    Are you just assuming they did?

    What if taxes stayed relatively low and constant for a number of years because inflation was low and the percentage of growth was also low so that some growth was accommodated with trivial tax subsidies?

    What if the costs of infrastructure kept going up due to inflation and as growth accelerated the amount of the taxpayer subsidies also went up at a huge rate requiring large increases in property taxes – like Fairfax has seen?

    Right now – in the here and now – a locality can tell you exactly how much tax revenue a house has to generate in order to break even on services.

    We have to deal with the situation as it is right now – on the ground and a previous low-rate subsidy does not justify a much higher-rate subsidy if we are trying to achieve some level of equity.

    If we did policy on what we perceived happened “before” both real or perceived.. it would lead to even more convoluted and irrational policies AND inequities.

    Here we have the property rights foks claiming that they are in support of the “free market” – but are they really?

    The argument is – that governments are using .. anti-land-owner policies to prevent those land-owners for developing dense projects that they are “entitled” to.

    whereas what they really want is for the government (which represents taxpayers) to allow dense development without requiring the developers to fully offset and mitigate their impacts on the infrastructure

    AND they want the government to, in essence, force other taxpayers to pay higher property taxes so that the infrastructure deficit can be paid for.

    So is the government truly harming the interests of property owners who want to develop their land but want subsidies to offset the infrastructure costs so that the housing will be “more affordable”

    or is it that the government is truly harming the interests of those landowners who feel their taxes are being “transferred” to developers and buyers of properties to pay for their infrastructure?

    So we end up with a biazrre arument (in my humble opinion) that it is the “fault” of the wealthy who can afford 3 acres in Fairfax for their home – that those who are not as wealthy have to drive to Loudoun to get – not minimal housing/roof over your head – but instead upscale housing with country kitchens/granite counters and the whole nine yards – that they cannot afford in Fairfax.

    It’s one thing for property taxes to subsidize minimal housing for those who literally have no other options for a roof over their heads; it’s quite another to use that concept – as justification for giving well-salaried folks “more house” for their money.

    By the way.. I don’t know about Fairfax but down where I live – subsidized housing exists and is in very good health as we have scores of apartments made available at a fraction of what they cost on the open market.

    But believe me – the folks who commute from Fredericksburg to NoVa jobs do NOT live in these very “affordable” housing units – not here – and I suspect not in Fairfax either.

  37. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    “At 4:48 PM, Anonymous said…

    “I am sure your comments are based on what you thought you experienced but many do not track with what we experienced.”

    “That’s a new one. Dismiss someone else’s experience as hallucinations.”

    Anon 4:48:

    I am not sure I would call them “hallucinations” but that does not make everyones observations about human settlement patters fact.

    For as long as human ancestors looked at the sky and wondered about celestial mechanics, until Greek Astronomers suggested differently they all thought the Sun and stars revolved around a flat earth. That is not the case.

    Twenty percent still think the Earth is Flat.

    For as long as humans have given consideration to to the cause of illness, until recently they thought is was the result of bad humors and evil spirits. Some still do.

    The majority of humans now know about as much about human settlement patterns as the majority of humans knew about health and celetrial mechanics in 1453 as we point out in The Shape of the Future.

    Just because someone lives or works in a specific place does not insure they know what created the settlement pattern nor what will change it for the better. Or even what is “the better.”


  38. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “Toll roads that make a profit will generate money for more transportation infrastructure, lessening the impact of growth on congestion.”

    If we think that toll roads can make a profit for their owners and generate more money for transportation infrastructure, then why is it that the current owners (us) are so frantic to get out of the business?

    We are not willing, or can’t find a leader who is willing, to raise the cost of using the roads enough so that we can all make a profit, yet we are willing to turn them over to private enterprise to do the same thing.

    By toll roads that make a profit, I assume you are not talking about the greenway.

  39. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Why not let the folks who MAKE jobs in Fairfax – be responsible for their own housing and mobility costs rather than supporting policies to take money away from commuting taxpayers to pay for those businesses legitimate expenses?

    Google has stepped up to the plate on this, why doesn’t everyone else recognize the logic?

    Why should Fairfax residents have their taxes subsidized through massive commercial enterprises that require far flung housing and transportation solutions? FW was right when he said “Fairfax County wanted the tax revenue from commercial development, without the “costs” associated with more housing.”

    Far flung neighborhoods which incorporate even more radical housing restrictions only exacerbate the problem, and guarantee it will last far into the future, because, as pointed out around Tysons, once eneacted those restrictions are unlikely to go away.

    The idea that “Right now – in the here and now – a locality can tell you exactly how much tax revenue a house has to generate in order to break even on services.” is nonsense precisely because the method they use only considers the “here and now”.

    Five years ago the claim was that any home in Fauquier valued at less than $350k didn’t pay its own way. After assessments doubled, a funny thing happened, now the claim was $700k.

    Since residential real estate covers only about one third of the local budget, the whole argument is ridiculous. No homes pay their full cost, new or old, if that’s the basis.

    But, since the same people who live in those homes are the ones paying all the other two thirds of taxes, then in that sense all of the homes are collectively paying all the bills that get paid.

    People living in existing homes have already skimmed the cream off the development profits, now they want to protect their turf at someone else’s expense, and do it through bogus and self-defeating arguments like “residential doesn’t pay.”

  40. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I have a free market idea to remove the restrictions on allowing more housing in Fairfax and other urbanized areas.

    We all know that density requires water/sewer – right?

    We also know that there is a finite number of readily available water/sewer connections and that if you took restrictions off of land that there would be a stampede to grab these connections before they were exhausted and no more available.

    How about we:

    1. – remove the restrictions

    2. – sell the water/sewer connections by auction

    then allow no more development until more connections were made available.

    is this what folks had in mind when they suggested getting rid of the restrictions?

    if not.. make a counter-proposal.

  41. Groveton Avatar


    Finishing up my last day in Beijing and I get back to look at this thread from the hotel. Great posts.

    The Dulles Toll Road probably did have a lot with bringing jobs to Reston. The timing is right. However, Fairfax County must have shown some good sense in zoning since the Reston Town Center is being developed as a relatively high density core surrounded by largely existing residences.

    Mr. Risse’s arguments never allow for any place to show any progress toward his utopian view of functional human settlement patterns. This is unfortunate since some real world examples of partial progress toward the goal of his arguments would help everybody understand those arguments. As it stands, his arguments may be correct or may be incorrect. Few will ever know since they are bereft of understandable example. Reston is no good, Columbia is no good, etc. etc.

    Mr. Gross asks the classic question of economics – should we consider costs at the average or at the margin. Economists would argue that costs should be viewed at the margin. However, politicians and social scientists say that fairness requires that costs be viewed at the average. Did the people who bought homes 20 years ago get a better deal on infrastructure than people buying new homes today? Yes, it costs more at the margin. Does this cost differential eventually trend to the average? I think so although that makes affordable housing more and more of a challenge.

    Technically, you could walk from Woodlea Mill to Tyson’s Corner. But, in a testimony to poor planning, that walk is practically impossible. The trek up Spring Hill Rd would involve a faily long walk without sidewalks on a busy street. At least that’s what I remember from the time I lived in McLean (not in Woodlea Mill).

    Will the rich people in Woodlea Mill get forced out in favor of high density housing? Unlikely as it seems today – I think the answer is yes. If present growth patterns persist there will be no alternative. For example, there was a time when Park Avenue in New York City had mansions lining it in mid-town. As NYC expanded these mansions were torn down and new high density, mixed use development occurred. I am sure there was a time when nobody expected this. Unfortunately, there is a lot of cheaper real estate to tear doen before tearing down Woodlea Mill will be affordable. For example, Pimmit Hills seems to be in the “cross hairs” of re-development if that Metro is ever built. I call this unfortunate because it will represent another step away from there being any afforadble housing in that area.

    Ray Hyde brings up a point I’ve been wondering about for quite a while – what is the “breakeven” price for new housing relative to the costs of infrastructure at the margin. It seems to me that this question, above all others, is the key to making some intelligent short to mid term decisions about zoning, infrastructure, etc. Of course, if the $700,000 breakeven is even close to accurate we have aproblem of epic proportion.

    Finally, Larry Gross continues his thought provoking line of inquiry with his post about water and sewer connections. Limiting water and sewer connections would certainly limit development. Great Falls proves that point. There is no county water and no county sewer in Great Falls. And Great Falls, zip code 22066, is one of the most expensive zip codes in Northern Virginia. Take a look at Weichert.Com (or any other reality site) for a look at the house prices in 22066. The residents of Great Falls have fought the county for two decades over the water / sewer issue. In what seems to be a counter-intuitive position, the residents of Great Falls oppose even a discussion of bringing county water and (especially) sewer to GF. This really limits density. Every lot requires at least 1 acre to provide enough percolation for a septic field. However, based on the geology of the lot in question, this septic percolation can take much more land. Therefore, there are only single familiy lots in Great Falls – virtually all on at least 1 acre, many on 3-5 acres.

    Fairfax County had no issue with the “no sewer” position for years and years. After all, Great Falls was “at the edge of the universe” in the minds of Fairfax County planners. So what if the wierdos who lived there thought they still lived in the countryside and opposed septic and county water? There was still plenty of building to be done outside Reston, in Burke, etc. Recently, the county has stepped up its efforts to bring county water and sewer to Great Falls. This time the county is trying to use Great Falls Elementary School and the small commercial district at the intersection of Walker Rd and Georgetown Pike as their reason. The residents generally oppose since they believe that:

    1. County water and sewer will open up the undeveloped land to higher density development.

    2. The county will make no provision for transportation if this higher density development is approved claiming it is “the state’s responsibility”.

    3. The net result will be more congestion and more gridlock.

    “The perc” is the term used to measure how fast a plot of land will percolate water from a septic field. The speed of “the perc” determines the density with which you can build. Obviously, if there were county sewer, the concept of “the perc” would be rendered meaningless. So, the saying in Great Falls goes, “the only thing protecting us from the supervisors is the perc”.

    Interstingly, many, many residential home developers live in Great Falls. They are the first to argue for county water, sewer and re-zoning everywhere except Great Falls. In Great Falls – they believe that the status quo must be preserved.

    If the government could manage to show the discipline to limit county water and sewer then that would limit development.

    As I have said on many occasions, there are ways to get to reasonable (not utopian) human settlement patterns. However, in the short to mid term, those ways always require substantial increases in government control. From Frankfurt, Germany to Xi’An, China – this is the case. I see no way to achieve this same goal through free markets, reasonably full landowners’ rights and popular sentiment.

    Allocating water and sewer connections will limit development. It is an example of increased government control.

  42. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Interesting story about GF.

    Is the moral of the story .. that monied and wealthy people know what happens to property values and taxes when water/sewer are provided and they prefer lower taxes? 🙂

    also.. where I live.. water/sewer is usually expanded to serve a new school – which is usually strategically located just beyond the current water/sewer limits because land for the new school site is cheaper there.

    Then.. once the school is built and water/sewer extended.. then the area around it becomes water/sewered and dense development proceeds.

    apparently GF does not work this way .. either their schools are not in the middle of GF or they have found a way to do schools without extending water/sewer.


  43. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I wasn’t advocating limiting water/sewer.

    I was wondering how it might be done by private investors in terms of things like when/where/how to build water supplies and regional sewage discharge …

    .. how much it would cost.. if privately done.. many that are private right now cost quite a bit more than public… versions…

    .. but I would point out that many laws and regs at the state and fed level govern such infrastructure.

    For instance, the state now has allocation limits for localities like Fairfax. This is a finite number of pounds of nitrogen and phosphorous that they can discharge and using current least expensive technologies.. this, in effect, specifies a finite number of sewage connections unless different/alternate/recylcing (read much more EXPENSIVE) technologies are employed.

    Do you think private provisioning of such infrastructure would have resulted in … say explicit TOD multi-use, compact development strategies?

    What settlement patterns would yield the greatest return on investment for investor-financed water/sewer .. and would those settlement patterns be the most efficient by de facto privatization of water/sewer?

    The Park Avenue Mansions were mentioned… now .. multi-story buildings…

    would this be the likely outcome of turning water/sewer over to private investors?

  44. Groveton Avatar


    As for keeping the property values low in GF by having no water and sewer – well we blew that one!

    I have a private company provide water and sewer – namely my own systems. GrovetonCo.

    Here’s an interesting link to the Great Falls Citizen’s Association Newsletter. Great Falls just finished (May 2007) a comprehensive survey of its residents. This survey was paid for by membership dues in the the GFCA. It is pretty enlightening. Some of the percentage answers are hard to understand at first. As I recall, the percentages are thepercentage of respondants who picked the item in question as the #1 issue from a list of related items. So, a 55% is a strong endorsement.

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