Saving the Planet Sometime Soon After Never

$20 a pop to give our neighbors one of these, buried on our electric bill.

What feeds persistent skepticism about those highly touted energy efficiency programs that we utility ratepayers get billed for? The actual reports on their costs and outcomes do not help.

Case in point: A quarterly report from Dominion Energy Virginia about its on-going efforts to reduce energy usage for low income or elderly residential customers. The utility spent more than $450 per household, a total of more than $713,000 to go into 1,568 homes, mostly apartments. 

What did they do in those lower-income households, according to the report? Install 8,700 LED light bulbs mainly, but at $20 a bulb, probably a markup near 1,000 percent over the bulk contractor price. In fact, comparing the “cost” of the other energy efficiency items on the report with their prices on the Lowe’s website should raise eyebrows and hackles.

Pipe insulation at $3 per linear foot? The retail (not wholesale) price at Lowe’s is 12 to 13 cents per foot. A price of $30 for each of the 411 new shower heads, or $12.50 for each of the 734 faucet aerators? That has to be five to ten times the actual cost of the items. Only the price for attic insulation, about $1.50 per square foot for R-30, doesn’t scream rip off.  Even if those prices include the installation somebody is doing well, especially if working their way through a compact apartment building.

There is zero information in the report about any actual or expected energy savings at the properties. At an average of $450 per unit for each job, how can this effort pass any reasonable cost-benefit analysis? There were only five things the contractors can do: LED bulbs, water-saver shower heads, water-saver faucet aerators, hot water pipe insulation and attic insulation. Not all were done in all places.

Why not reveals an interesting quirk: If the tenant (and it was almost entirely apartments now) has gas heat or hot water, then pipe insulation, shower heads, aerators and ceiling insulation are not offered. The goal is saving electricity, not energy and certainly not water. In many of the units, a few installed LED light bulbs is the only outcome of the visit.

As a utility customer already forced to pay the contractor to be there, I’d rather they install the water saver doohickeys even for the gas customers (preferably at the real cost, not the inflated price). Or is the same contractor also charging me for those through my gas bill?

This is all fully approved and deemed “in the public interest” by our General Assembly. The report itself notes: “This program has been successful by utilizing the state’s weatherization providers to implement widespread weatherization improvements to qualifying customers with a heavy emphasis on multifamily properties. Prior to the implementation of this program, customers in multifamily housing, needing weatherization improvements, were underserved.”

Well, they are getting served now, and we are getting billed. It’s a tiny amount, but still worth less than we are paying. Walk through Best Buy’s television or appliance department and compare the energy consumption stickers. There is more to conservation than just putting in a few LED light bulbs. Ceiling insulation can make a major difference but was only done in about a third of the units (presumably top floor apartments).

Yeah, this will bend the energy demand curve and save the planet. Somewhere soon after never. And when it is obviously failing, the advocates will move on to something else we all get to pay for. In fact, here may be a sign of The Next Big Thing:  They will want us to pay for energy efficient roofing. Hot roofs also make people sick, you understand.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


6 responses to “Saving the Planet Sometime Soon After Never”

  1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    So energy efficiency policy execution is just another name for crony capitalist reap off of the consumer / taxpayer, like a public university education (think UVa.) or wind or solar energy too.

    For example of another rip off of public see:

  2. From Great Eagle A19 LED Light Bulb 4-pack for $8.49.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    This is not really about energy efficiency. It’s a ratepayer-funded profitable venture for a company selling massively over-priced products – that ratepayers are footing the bill for.

    Dominion is doing this with a number of things that the GA has “funded” via ratepayer tariffs.

    It has absolutely nothing to do with energy efficiency except in name only. And I have to ask again – are the RECs allowed to partake in this scam also?

    For all the caterwauling here about the cost of tuition for higher ed and cries for the government to “do something” about it – it’s almost cricket-like in any condemnation of what Dominion is doing in the name of energy conservation and grid “modernization” “profits” some of which gets plowed right back into GA campaign donations.

    UVA should hire Doms PR team and figure out a way to give similar campaign donations to the GA and label their extra cost programs as the “Student Helping Hand program”….. a line item on each bill the parents/students pay – just like electric bills.

  4. djrippert Avatar

    At the risk of using the “royal we” …

    BaconsRebellion should send an energy policy questionnaire to every General Assembly candidate in the upcoming election. 10 straightforward questions that can be answered with either yes / no, a numeric scale or a two – three sentence answer.

    I’ll put forth the first question …

    1. Should the General Assembly pass legislation limiting the campaign contributions of state – regulated corporations such as Dominion Resources?

    a. Yes
    b. No

    In fact, this might be worth a cooperative effort with other Virginia-based political blogs.

    It’s time to put public pressure on the General Assembly to address the unbelievable antics of Dominion.

  5. Don’t forget that over-charge is what pays for the political donations to elected officials. So it is justified, depending on your view point.
    I managed to burn out an LED bulb the other day, my fault, I tried putting it in an enclosed fixture, that was too hot due to other light bulbs in the same area.

  6. NorrhsideDude Avatar

    What should be scary is the thoughtof what this would mean to a nationwide policy push like the Green New Deal. Imagine the true cost to go into every building to reinsulate and install all new green technology at those markups. Or create new microgrids. What will happen is the entire budget will be gone after we get about 12% through the retrofits. All the money will be spent with little benefit gained. But those with connections will become billionaires.

Leave a Reply