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Government Weatherization: an exercise in Soviet style efficiency

It rained taxpayer cash on “weatherization,” a series of energy efficiency initiatives – “such as residential weatherization and state capitol retrofits – to renewable energy projects” and federal grants intended to reduce carbon emissions and create “green” jobs.

The nationwide initiatives enjoyed massive expansion courtesy of President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also know as the “stimulus,” sucking up “$5 billion [in taxpayer money] over a three-year period…which represents about a 2,100 percent increase over the approximately $225 million per year the program has received in recent years,” according to a Colorado audit report.

Recently released Seattle results for the program, “Retrofit, Ramp Up,” reveal that it’s federal arrogance to think government creates jobs. Worse, it uses your money to do it with the depressing efficiency of all the failed central-government command, control economies.

Seattle defines “eco-chic.” Green trends are everywhere from hotels to real estate to sports teams. This spring, Seattle sports anchor Bill Swartz reported, “Our Northwest sports teams don’t win too many World Championships, but when it comes to taking care of our planet, they’re in first place.”

On the eve of Earth Day 2010, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn boasted on his Web site that he was with Vice President Joe Biden at the White House for the announcement that Seattle was one of only 25 communities awarded a highly competitive “Retrofit Ramp Up” grant.

During the announcement, Biden called the project a “triple win” for consumers who save money on utility bills, for the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and for the economy because it creates “green jobs, jobs that can’t be outsourced.”

A giddy McGinn said, “The Ramp Up award will greatly increase the scale of our programs and enable us to pilot potentially game-changing approaches to financing and delivering energy efficiency projects.”

The $20 million in taxpayer funds supported the Seattle Neighborhood WEB (Weatherize Every Building) Initiative. The program had lofty goals:
• Reduce carbon emissions by 71,000 metric tons
• Produce 2,000 “living wage green jobs”
• Retrofit 2,000 homes in lower income neighborhoods

More than a year later, displaying true Soviet-style efficiency, only three homes have been retrofitted and 14 jobs created ($1,428,571.40 per job). Seattle’s unemployment rate is 9.3 percent, up .7 percent from May.

“Lackluster” is the word that the Seattle Post Intelligencer newspaper recently used to describe the results for the much-ballyhooed $20 million grant. But the paper is not being fair to the word “lackluster.” Other, more appropriate words that come to mind: deplorable, appalling, shameful, a massive waste of taxpayer money. Taxpayers deserve an apology and should demand a refund.

Even green champions are disillusioned. The Seattle PI quoted Michael Woo, director of Got Green, “The jobs just haven’t surfaced…It’s almost painful the number of meetings people have gone to. Those are the people who got jobs.”

No word whether or not Seattle has reduced its carbon footprint. Naturally, supporters blame everything from bureaucracy to the economy except the flawed theory that government creates jobs.

Seattle was just one $20 million example of the $452 million “Retrofit Ramp Up” boondoggle courtesy of President Obama’s “stimulus” program.

A California MAD (Mothers Against Debt) fan recounted her experience with “weatherization:”

They came to my house to weatherize. First one guy walked around and looked, called another guy; and he walked around and looked; and then the supervisor came and looked and said since the water heater was in the basement, I had to have PG&E come out and inspect. So they changed three light bulbs from 60-watt squiggly lights to 100-watt squiggly lights. Didn’t touch weatherizing the French doors or the three outer doors or the door between the garage and house…I called after the inspection and was told they had finished the job…I said no they were to come back after PG&E came…. she put me on hold and came back saying ‘we already were paid for that job.’ That was it. Never could find out what three light bulbs cost the government.

Colorado, another government-selected green winner, received a $25 million “Retrofit Ramp Up” grant for a program initially titled “Two Techs and a Truck,” according to a press release from then Governor Bill Ritter. The grant was divvied up between Denver, Garfield and Boulder counties, with Boulder getting $12 million. Two Techs and a Truck is now Boulder-based EnergySmart with 124 Facebook fans. A Daily Camera article reports 850 homeowners have “enrolled” with EnergySmart.

All of these weatherization programs are micro-managed through the U.S. Department of Energy, “Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Weatherization & Intergovernmental Programs.” Grants recipients must comply with the Davis-Bacon Act requirements of ARRA. That means the DOE, along with the U.S. Department of Labor must approve of all weatherization workers. The two agencies have determined the green “living wage” by county by state for six different categories of workers.

In other words, someone in Washington D.C. decided that a federal government sanctioned plumber in Boulder County must be paid $23.50 per hour plus $4.54 in benefits, while a Garfield County plumber must receive $18.06 with an additional $2.78 for benefits. In Seattle’s King County that wage is $30.09 per hour plus $10.43 in benefits. This level of meddling in what should be a free market is exhausting and impossible to maintain as history has proven.

Most infuriating is that government can only spend our money, our children’s money and our grandchildren’s money to promote the fairy tale that it can “create” jobs. All government can do is take money from those who earn it and redistribute to its preferred special interests. Weatherization is just one small example.

Amy Oliver Cooke is the founder of Mothers Against Debt (www. Mothersagainstdebt.com). She is also the director of the Colorado Transparency Project for the Independence Institute and writes on energy policy. She can be reached at amy@i2i.org.

This column appeared originally in Townhall.com.