CERRITOS – Two inflatable rubber dams that should save $1 million worth of water from heading to the ocean should be operational in about a month.But the operational date comes more than a year after they were supposed to be complete and the cost has grown by about $5.2 million to $6.4million.The Water Replenishment District of Southern California, which purchases water to recharge the underground aquifers in southern Los Angeles County, is bearing most of the additional cost.The district’s board last week appropriated $2.1 million, twice the amount it had planned to spend in 2003 for the project.But even at twice the cost, the dams, which are being constructed in the San Gabriel River, are a good investment, said Robb Whitaker, the district’s general manager.“It will allow us to capture more storm water and get that water into the ground creating basically a new water supply,” Whitaker said.The two proposed dams are located on the San Gabriel River between Valley Boulevard and San Jose Creek, said Ken Pelman, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Public Works Department, which is constructing them.Each dam is 442 feet long and when fully inflated will be 8 feet high.They were supposed to be constructed during summer 2004, but there were delays. By the time work was supposed to be started, the rainy season had hit, Pelman said.The cost ended up higher than expected too, he said. state bond money and funds from the county are paying the rest of the cost.The dams give the county flexibility, Pelman said. They can be inflated to keep the water from flowing down to the ocean or deflated if there’s too much water flowing.“We can deflate them or inflate them depending on what we need,” Pelman said.The dams are expected to save about 3,600 acre-feet. An acre-foot, 326,000 gallons, can be visualized as a football field one-foot deep in water. It also is the amount of water used in a year by an average family of five.At a cost of $300 per acre-foot, that means a savings of about $1 million in one year alone, Whitaker said.“Our investment can be paid off in two average rainfall years,” he said.With these two new dams, the county will have a total of 13. Three of those are used to divert water into the nearby spreading grounds to recharge the under ground supply. email@example.com(562)698-0955, Ext. 3022 AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
SANTA CLARA >> Colin Kaepernick will start at quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers this week against the Buffalo Bills.Coach Chip Kelly announced the decision Tuesday to bench Blaine Gabbert and give back the job Kaepernick lost midway through last season. Kaepernick has only played briefly in the opener but has generated attention with his refusal to stand for the national anthem.Gabbert has struggled this season for San Francisco (1-4). He is last in the NFL in yards per attempt (5.9) …
23 October 2006In the waiting area of a large office complex in Accra, Ghana, it’s standing room only as citizens with bundles of cash line up to buy shares of a mutual fund that has yielded an average 60% annually for the past seven years.Africa: Open for BusinessCarol Pineau, a journalist with more than 10 years’ experience reporting on Africa, is the producer and director of the film Africa: Open for Business, which aired worldwide on the BBC in May 2006 and has been released for purchase on DVD at Africa: Open for Business.They’re entrusting their hard-earned cash to a local company called Databank, which invests in stock markets in Ghana, Nigeria, Botswana and Kenya that consistently rank among the world’s top growth markets.Chances are you haven’t read or heard anything about Databank in your daily newspaper or on the evening news, where the little coverage of Africa that’s offered focuses almost exclusively on the negative – the virulent spread of HIV/Aids, genocide in Darfur, the chaos of Zimbabwe.Yes, Africa is a land of wars, poverty and corruption. The situation in places like Darfur, Sudan desperately cries out for more media attention and international action.But Africa is also a land of stock markets, high rises, Internet cafes and a growing middle class. This is the part of Africa that functions. And this Africa also needs media attention, if it’s to have any chance of fully joining the global economy.Africa’s media image comes at a high cost – even, at the extreme, the cost of lives. Stories about hardship and tragedy aim to tug at our heartstrings, getting us to dig into our pockets or urge Congress to send more aid.But no country or region ever developed thanks to aid alone. Investment, and the job and wealth creation it generates, is the only road to lasting development. That’s how China, India and the Asian Tigers did it.Highest return on FDI in the worldYet while Africa, according to the US government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation, offers the highest return in the world on foreign direct investment, it attracts the least.Unless investors see the Africa that’s worthy of investment, they won’t put their money into it. And that lack of investment translates into job stagnation, continued poverty and limited access to education and health care.Consider a few facts. The Ghana Stock Exchange regularly tops the list of the world’s highest-performing stock markets. Botswana, with its A+ credit rating, boasts one of the highest per capita government savings rates in the world, topped only by Singapore and a handful of other fiscally prudent nations.Cellphones are making phenomenal profits on the continent. Brand-name companies like Coca-Cola, GM, Caterpillar and Citibank have invested in Africa for years and are quite bullish on the future.Caricaturing a continentThe failure to show this side of Africa creates a one-dimensional caricature of a complex continent. Imagine if 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing and school shootings were all that the rest of the world knew about America.I recently produced a documentary on entrepreneurship and private enterprise in Africa. Throughout the year-long process, I came to realise how all of us in the media – even those with a true love of the continent – portray it in a way that’s truly to its detriment.The first cameraman I called to film the documentary laughed and said, “Business and Africa, aren’t those contradictory terms?” The second got excited imagining heart-warming images of women’s co-ops and market stalls brimming with rustic crafts. Several friends simply assumed I was doing a documentary on Aids. After all, what else does one film in Africa?The little-known fact is that businesses are thriving throughout Africa. With good governance and sound fiscal policies, countries like Botswana, Ghana, Uganda, Senegal and many more are bustling, their economies growing at surprisingly robust rates.Somalia: surprise, surprisePrivate enterprise is not just limited to the well-behaved nations. You can’t find a more war-ravaged land than Somalia, which has been without a central government for more than a decade.The big surprise? Private enterprise is flourishing. Mogadishu has the cheapest cellphone rates on the continent, mostly due to no government intervention. In the northern city of Hargeysa, the markets sell the latest satellite phone technology. The electricity works.When the state collapsed in 1991, the national airline went out of business. Today, there are five private carriers and price wars keep the cost of tickets down. This is not the Somalia you see in the media.Obviously life there would be dramatically improved by good governance – or even just some governance – but it’s also true that, through resilience and resourcefulness, Somalis have been able to create a functioning society.African solutionsMost African businesses suffer from an extreme lack of infrastructure, but the people I met were too determined to let this stop them. It just costs them more. Without reliable electricity, most businesses have to use generators. They have to dig bore-holes for a dependable water source. Telephone lines are notoriously out of service, but cellphones are filling the gap.Throughout Africa, what I found was a private sector working hard to find African solutions to African problems.One example that will always stick in my mind is the CEO of Vodacom Congo, the largest cellphone company in that country. Alieu Conteh started his business while the civil war was still raging. With rebel troops closing in on the airport in Kinshasa, no foreign manufacturer would send in a cell phone tower, so Conteh got locals to collect scrap metal, which they welded together to build one. That tower still stands today.As I interviewed successful entrepreneurs, I was continually astounded by their ingenuity, creativity and steadfastness. These people are the future of the continent. They are the ones we should be talking to about how to move Africa forward.Obsession with victims, savioursInstead, the media concentrates on victims or government officials, and as anyone who has worked in Africa knows, government is more often a part of the problem than of the solution.When the foreign media descend on the latest crisis, the person they look to interview is invariably the foreign saviour, an aid worker from the United States or Europe. African saviours are everywhere, delivering aid on the ground. But they don’t seem to be in our cultural belief system.It’s not just the media, either. Look at the literature put out by almost any non-governmental organisation. The better ones show images of smiling African children – smiling because they have been helped by the NGO. The worst promote the extended-belly, flies-on-the-face cliche of Africa, hoping that the pain of seeing those images will fill their coffers. “We hawk poverty”, one NGO worker admitted to me.Last November, ABC’s “Primetime Live” aired a special on Britain’s Prince Harry and his work with Aids children in Lesotho. The segment, titled “The Forgotten Kingdom: Prince Harry in Lesotho”, painted the tiny nation as a desperate, desolate place. The programme’s message was clear: This helpless nation at last had a knight – or prince – in shining armour.By the time the charity addresses came up at the end, you were ready to give, and that’s good. Lesotho needs help with its Aids problem. But would it really have hurt the story to add that this land-locked nation with few natural resources has jump-started its economy by aggressively courting foreign investment?The reality is that it’s anything but a “forgotten kingdom”, as a dramatic increase in exports has made it the top beneficiary of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a duty-free, quota-free US-Africa trade agreement. More than 50 000 people have gotten jobs through the country’s initiatives.Couldn’t the programme have portrayed an African country that was in need of assistance, but was neither helpless nor a victim?Whose portrait of Africa?
Bridget Hilton-BarberI was driving through Lenyene a few Saturdays ago – it’s a small rural township outside Tzaneen in Limpopo province, where I live – when I noticed a lively crowd of people gathered at the edge of a dusty field.I slowed down, thinking it was a local soccer match, but then I realised the crowd was watching wannabe drivers doing their driver’s licence tests on a makeshift testing ground.In the absence of malls, movie houses and other entertainment in places like this, driving tests have become a spectator sport. I pulled over and watched for a bit.It was better than Isidingo, The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful combined. There was wild clapping, cheering and whistling as hopeful drivers, most of them youngsters and mainly women, climbed into the truck. Most people here do a Code 10 licence for a truck, which automatically qualifies you for a Code 08 for a regular car.As the nervous drivers were put through their paces, the crowd either booed or whooped according to their performance. Those who stalled or knocked over the orange road markers were met with guffaws and insults, while those who didn’t got clapping and ululating.The successful emerged to high fives and backslapping; the unsuccessful slunk off with their tails between their legs.On the edges of the crowd, hawkers were doing a brisk trade in roasted mealies and fresh fruit and vegetables, cellphone airtime and cold beers. A group of young guys in a VW Golf with tinted windows and dashboard fur were playing loud oomsta-oomsta music. I left reluctantly as a crowd of young women gathered happily around a mate who had gotten her licence. A little way down the track, a mother comforted her crying daughter who one can only presume failed the grade.Driving back home I noticed for the first time how many driving schools there are in the area – some in official-looking buildings, others in nothing more than a painted hut under a scruffy acacia tree.One, called David’s Driving School, featured smashed windows, a series of wrecked cars parked inauspiciously outside and a lone goat tethered to a post.In Tzaneen alone there are more than six driving schools, including Bongy’s Driving School, Tzaneen Driving School, TJ’s Driving School, the International Driving School, even the interestingly named Surprise Driving School! I’m sure the instructors there have their fair share of surprising tales.Most mornings and afternoons on the outskirts of town you will see crowds of youngsters waiting on the side of the road for their turn behind the wheel of their chosen school’s truck. And drop in anytime to the town’s testing grounds and the place will be packed to capacity with young people waiting to sit their learners’ licences or do their practical driving test.Upward mobility in rural areas has come to mean getting a licence. And it seems the best way to do it is through one of the schools which, although don’t guarantee a licence, have a high pass rate. They are pricey though – a course at your average driving school costs upwards of R3 000 (US$380), excluding the payment of R800 ($100) or so which goes to the traffic department.It’s not surprising that some resort to the help of local sangomas. In the high street in Tzaneen, a blackboard on the pavement outside a herbalist’s shop offers help for “asthma, adultery, sex problems, drivers licence, madness and debt problem (sic)”.Apparently they don’t come too cheap either. And, of course, the chance to actually buy your own car is impossibly out of reach for most people.But nothing, it seems, is stopping the tide of people heading for driving schools. And nothing is stopping the testing grounds becoming popular meeting spots.I noticed while driving through Bolobedu South the other day that many old gogos bring along their own plastic chairs, which they use to sit on while they wait for a lift to the testing ground, and then use them to sit on while they watch the thrill of the show. This is local drama at its best.Bridget Hilton-Barber is a well-known travel writer based in Limpopo province. She has worked as editor of South African Airways’ inflight magazine Sawubona, debut editor of Lowveld Living, travel correspondent for Radio 702 and travel editor of FairLady magazine. She is the author of seven books.
Share Facebook Twitter Google + LinkedIn Pinterest Over the years, as I have worked with beef cattle owners I have asked them where temperament ranks as they make culling decisions and decide which animals and genetics to keep in the herd. I have heard replies ranging from “It’s a factor, something I keep in mind” to “It’s one of the top 3 factors in my decision.” Glenn Selk, Department of Animal Science at Oklahoma State University, recently presented the results of a couple of studies showing that wild and/or excitable cattle negatively affect profit in the cattle operation. Here are excerpts from that article:Selk cited a Mississippi State University study published in 2006 that used a total of 210 feeder cattle consigned by 19 producers in a “farm to feedlot” program to evaluate the effect of temperament on performance and net profit. Temperament was scored on a 1 to 5 scale (1=nonaggressive, docile; 5=very aggressive, excitable). Three measurements were used: pen score, chute score, and exit velocity.Measurements were taken on the day of shipment to the feedlot. Exit velocity is an evaluation of temperament that is made electronically by measuring the speed at which the animal leaves the confinement of the chute. Exit velocity and pen scores were highly correlated. As pen scores increased, so did exit velocity. As pen score and exit velocity increased, health treatments costs and number of days treated increased, while average daily gain and final body weight decreased. As pen score increased, net profit per head tended to decline.A Colorado State University study published in 1996 examined the effects of temperament on weight gains and the incidence of dark cutting. Cattle were temperament ranked, on a 5-point system, while animals were held on a single animal scale. Their results show that there is a highly significant effect of temperament ranking on average daily gain. Animals exhibiting the highest temperament ranking also have the lowest average daily gains. Conversely, animals that were the calmest had the highest average daily gains. Those cattle that have the highest temperament ranking, those that were berserk, also have the highest incidence of dark cutters. Dark cutter carcasses will be discounted approximately $20 to $25 dollars per hundred pounds compared to carcasses with normal colored lean.How effective can culling be to improve the temperament of your herd? Temperament is considered a moderately heritable characteristic with a heritability score of 0.36 to 0.45. This indicates that progress can be made by selecting against flighty and excitable cattle.
Does weatherization pass the cost-benefit test?The three economists who authored “Do Energy Efficiency Investments Deliver?” came to a different conclusion from previous researchers. In their abstract, the authors wrote, “Conventional wisdom suggests that energy efficiency (EE) policies are beneficial because they induce investments that pay for themselves and lead to emissions reductions. … The findings suggest that the upfront investment costs are about twice the actual energy savings.”In the section of the paper headed “Conclusion,” the authors wrote, “From a policy perspective, WAP does not appear to pass a conventional cost-benefit test, although its full set of goals may not be reflected in such tests.” Furnace replacements aren’t cost-effectiveAfter the paper by Fowlie, Greenstone, and Wolfram was published, I called up a prominent weatherization expert known for his data-analysis skills and extensive experience evaluating energy-efficiency programs. Because of his current employment status, he asked that I withhold his name — a request to which I reluctantly acceded. I’ll have to call him “John Doe.”“These researchers looked at the weatherization work of just five agencies in Michigan,” John Doe began. (There are a total of 28 community action agencies that provide weatherization services in Michigan.) “WAP is a national program in 50 states,” Doe continued. “Different agencies have different program designs and different levels of training. There are variations in energy savings between agencies that can vary from 2 or 3 to 1, and there are variations in energy savings between states that can vary from 2 or 3 to 1. So this is not a representative sample. You can’t draw any conclusions about the WAP program based on this sample.”John Doe noted that replacing an old furnace with a new furnace usually has a long payback period. When weatherization jobs include furnace replacement — as opposed to just air sealing and insulation improvements — the furnace replacement jobs tend to drag down the cost-effectiveness numbers. Of the weatherization jobs studied by these researchers, 34% included furnace replacement.“In some cases, weatherization agencies estimate the efficiency of the existing furnace at a really low number, low enough that the program rules will permit the furnace to be replaced, because they know that the furnace is on its last legs and isn’t particularly safe,” Doe told me. “It’s a stopgap approach, but these decisions are made for the best of reasons. Some of these programs have strict criteria for when certain measures can be performed, so they end up doing furnace replacements which are really health and safety measures, even though they are categorized as an energy-efficiency measure. These programs want to fix up a house as much as they can as well as reduce energy bills. We know that furnace replacement is almost never cost-effective, especially now that natural gas is cheap, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ever replace a furnace. … Remember, these agencies are doing an amazing job, juggling multiple funding streams, trying to help poor people have better energy-efficient homes.”Doe continued, “How do you account for the costs and benefits? Maybe we shouldn’t be replacing these furnaces. Maybe $2,000 of the $5,000 that was spent on a weatherization job was invested in things that we never really thought would pay for themselves. But a cost-effectiveness analysis doesn’t account for the value of the improved quality of life and improved safety for the people who live there. There are a wide array of benefits when we weatherize people’s homes. When there is a leaky roof, maybe they patched the roof and fixed the attic. The work sometimes includes asbestos abatement or repairs for faulty wiring. It’s not fair to say this work isn’t cost-effective.” GBA Prime subscribers have access to many articles that aren’t accessible to non-subscribers, including Martin Holladay’s weekly blog series, “Musings of an Energy Nerd.” To whet the appetite of non-subscribers, we offer a “GBA Prime Sneak Peek.” This GBA Prime blog was originally published on July 3, 2015. Fuzzy numbersOnly by careful digging does one discover, in a confusingly labeled table, the type of weatherization measures that were implemented at the studied houses. The information can be found in the Appendix, Table 1. It appears that 85% of the houses received new attic insulation; 76% received a measure called “infiltration reduction” (more accurately called “air sealing”); 44% received new wall insulation; and 34% received new furnaces.The authors wrote, “Recipient households in our study received approximately $5,150 worth of home improvements on average, at zero out-of-pocket costs. The most common measures included furnace replacement, attic and wall insulation, and infiltration reduction.” (Note that the authors didn’t list these measures in order of frequency.)They also wrote, “We estimate that the WAP energy efficiency investments reduce monthly energy consumption by 10-20% on average.” It’s unclear why, if the researchers are reporting an “average,” they were unable to pin down energy savings with any better precision than the wide range cited here.The authors continued, “Although this surely provides a substantial assist to participating low-income households in the form of reduced energy bills, the upfront investment costs are about twice the realized energy savings. Further, the model-projected savings are roughly 2.5 times the actual savings.”Needless to say, most journalists reported that the cost of the weatherization measures was greater than the anticipated energy savings.Almost all weatherization researchers report average energy savings in weatherized houses. The method of reporting chosen by the three economists, however, is surprisingly vague. “Our estimates imply energy savings of 17.2 MMBtu [of natural gas] per year,” the authors wrote. (That estimate of per-family annual savings would be worth about $155 in Michigan.)It’s unclear why the authors report that their “estimates imply” this level of savings; why not just tell us the actual weather-normalized savings? RELATED ARTICLES Weatherization Funding Has Been SlashedWeatherization’s Home-Stretch RecoveryLawmaker Targets DOE’s Weatherization ProgramWeatherization’s Political Fallout DOE Announces Home Efficiency Scoring System and Weatherization GuidelinesDOE Targets Innovation in Its Weatherization Program Stimulus-Funded Weatherization Begins to Find Its FootingIn Some Areas, Weatherization Struggles Out of the GateMinnesota Gears Up for Weatherization Onslaught U.S. House Proposes Huge Increase In Weatherization Spending Basic facts about the study are hiddenThe paper by Fowlie, Greenstone, and Wolfram is poorly written and opaque. It neglects to report information of obvious interest to those concerned with weatherization issues: for example, how many weatherized houses were included in the study, the average pre-weatherization utility bills for the studied houses, and the average post-weatherization bills of weatherized houses.I contacted one of the researchers, Meredith Fowlie, to ask how many weatherized houses were studied. “If you want to know the number of households in our experimental sample that appear in all data sources needed for the estimation of causal impacts, the total number is 616,” she answered. “The 616 number conditions on a perfect match across all of our data sources. A small share of households in our initial experimental sample could not be perfectly matched with our billing data and thus were dropped from the sample.”Although she also wrote, “You can find these numbers in Table 3 of the Appendix,” the numbers in the table don’t match her tally. The table lists a total of 436 “experimental encouraged” households, 1,473 “other weatherized” households, and 180 “experimental control” households.Although the number of studied weatherized houses is not clearly reported in the researcher’s paper, I have no reason to doubt Fowlie’s statement that the researchers evaluated the cost-effectiveness of weatherization measures performed at 616 houses. Because it took me so much digging to determine how many houses were studied, it’s hard to fault the journalists who latched on to the prominently featured statement at the beginning of the researchers’ report: namely, the claim that the paper “reports on the results of an experimental evaluation of the nation’s largest residential EE [energy efficiency] program conducted on a sample of more than 30,000 households.”To repeat: the number of weatherized houses that were evaluated by the researchers was 616, not 30,000. Thinking like economists, not energy expertsThe fact that authors of the paper are all economists affected their method of analysis.“The authors did a terrible job of analyzing the data, so we don’t really know what the savings are,” Doe told me. “They didn’t use the standard analytical methods used in the energy-savings field. They ignored the fact that this is physics, not economics. They actually don’t model energy use, but instead model the logarithm of monthly energy use — which makes an additive process (heating use adds onto baseload use in the winter — it doesn’t multiply it by some percent) into something that makes no sense and can lead to unpredictable answers.” Setting up a straw manKushler worries that this paper might affect funding for programs aimed to help low-income families.Kushler wrote, “The authors conducted a study of one particular low-income program (the federal Weatherization Assistance Program, or WAP), as implemented in portions of one state (Michigan), and somehow ended up with the sweeping headline ‘Study Finds Costs of Residential Energy Efficiency Investments are Double the Benefits.’ Some of the popular press is already picking up on this theme, and the concern is that a misunderstanding (or misuse) of this study will lead to low-income families having less access to important programs that drive down their utility bills. Or worse yet, as a broad-brush attack on all types of energy efficiency programs.”He continued, “In short, this study cherry-picked the worst possible program for comparing total costs to just direct energy savings, then set up a straw man to knock down, then tried to suggest, from an extremely limited sample of one program type, that all ‘residential energy efficiency investments’ are suspect.” Putting the data into perspectiveThe three researchers made broad generalizations about residential energy efficiency improvements based on limited data from one state. It is worth noting:The researchers only looked at the work of 18% of the low-income weatherization agencies working in Michigan. The researchers didn’t evaluate weatherization programs in any other state.The researchers only analyzed heating fuel savings in homes that were heated with natural gas, excluding homes heated by propane, fuel oil, and electricity. Of course, weatherization work is much more likely to be cost-effective in homes heated by propane, fuel oil, or electricity, because these fuels are generally more expensive than natural gas.While natural gas is currently inexpensive, it may not be inexpensive forever. Rising energy prices would improve the cost-effectiveness of the weatherization work that was studied.The researchers only looked at WAP. They did not evaluate any energy-efficiency work performed at the homes of middle-class or upper-class Americans. Because low-income families often live in substandard housing, weatherization work in low-income homes is often less cost-effective than similar work in homes owned by middle-class Americans. Moreover, WAP has to serve every low-income family that qualifies for the program, even when the family’s home may not be an ideal candidate for cost-effective weatherization measures — a fact that tends to lower cost-effectiveness numbers.The researchers’ conclusions show that they didn’t appreciate the fact that low-income weatherization programs often perform work for reasons other than energy savings; and that while the non-energy measures reduce the cost-effectiveness of the work, the measures provide important benefits to the families who are served.The researchers sought and obtained funding that they used to encourage low-income families to enroll in the weatherization program. This “encouragement design” may have lowered the savings compared to regular WAP work. Low-income households apply for WAP voluntarily, presumably because they think they can benefit — for example, because their homes are drafty and poorly insulated. By pushing the program on people and increasing application rates by six times, the researchers’ marketing efforts may have resulted in a group of participants who were less likely to benefit from the program than the normal flow of applications. The “encouragement design” changed the treatment group to include more households that didn’t feel as though they needed the program. Moreover, the “encouragement group” was found to have smaller homes and more elderly occupants than other weatherized homes and apparently had much lower gas use (about 25% lower than the average home in Michigan).As Martin Kushler, a senior fellow at ACEEE, has pointed out, “This study looked at the WAP during the ‘stimulus package’ years. … WAP was extremely stressed at the time, with tremendous pressure to push money out to the field. Job creation was at least as big a goal as energy savings, and they were functioning with a lot of new and inexperienced employees in order to handle the huge increase in funding and the deadlines to get it spent. … The stimulus package demands on the system drove up the average cost per home in the program, in an effort to ‘get the money spent.’ This would naturally tend to diminish the apparent cost-effectiveness in terms of energy savings per dollar spent.”The researchers apparently made their cost-effectiveness calculations without performing any weather normalization. Weather normalization is the adjustment of fuel cost numbers to account for differences between colder-than-average winters, average winters, and warmer-than-average winters; without weather normalization, it’s impossible to compare one winter’s fuel bill with the next winter’s fuel bill. Instead of weather normalization, the researchers included month-specific effects which indirectly account for weather through how the control group’s usage shifted month by month. But these month-specific effects doesn’t actually capture the weather that each customer experienced and do not adjust the usage for a typical weather year.When trumpeting their findings in a press release, at least one of the three authors didn’t just report the data; he used the Michigan data to make sweeping generalizations about residential energy efficiency improvements. “Energy efficiency investments hold great potential as a means to fight climate change,” Michael Greenstone declared. “However, we found that, at least in the case of residential energy efficiency investments, the projected savings overestimate the reality on the ground.”One of Greenstone’s co-authors appears to disagree with Greenstone’s generalizations. Asked about the study, Meredith Fowlie was quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “This is one study in one state looking at one subpopulation and one type of measure. I would not feel comfortable generalizing from our study in Michigan.” An expensive way to reduce carbon emissionsThe three economists — Fowlie, Greenstone, and Wolfram — noted that spending on WAP is not the best way to reduce carbon emissions. That’s true, but WAP was not established to lower carbon emissions. The program was established to help low-income families who are struggling with high energy bills.One of the papers I cited at the beginning of this article — “Cost-Effectiveness of Weatherization in Low-Income Urban Housing Stock” by Jonathan L. Bradshaw — addresses the question of carbon emissions. “Weatherization strategies aimed at energy savings, carbon savings, and cost-effectiveness may not lead to the same conclusion,” Bradshaw wrote. “Because average energy consumption, carbon intensity of energy consumed, and energy prices all vary geographically and largely independently, energy savings, carbon savings, and cost-effectiveness are not necessarily aligned. Weatherization strategies that seek to minimize residential energy use may not be the same strategies that seek to minimize residential carbon emissions. Additionally, there are different ways to consider cost-effectiveness, including net present value or by abatement cost for energy or carbon. In evaluating existing and designing new weatherization programs, it will be important for policy-makers to recognize these differences and decide the priorities of weatherization programs.” This decades-old program helps low-income AmericansThe federal low-income weatherization program — officially known as the Weatherization Assistance Program, or WAP — is now 39 years old. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, the program pays for weatherization workers to perform air sealing work, to add insulation, to seal leaky duct seams, and to replace inefficient appliances in the homes of low-income Americans. The services are provided at no charge to recipients.The weatherization program is administered by state employees; in most states, however, the actual weatherization work is performed by employees of local nonprofit groups known as community action agencies.One of the guidelines promoted by WAP is that weatherization measures should be selected based on cost-effectiveness. Over the past decades, many researchers have looked at whether the program is successful at achieving this cost-effectiveness goal.For example, in a 2010 paper, “Cost-Effectiveness of Weatherization in Low-Income Urban Housing Stock,” author Jonathan L. Bradshaw reported, “Most weatherization treatments examined are profitable. Although cost-effectiveness varies significantly between cities and treatment scenarios, almost all treatments in the cities examined were NPV-positive [net-present-value-positive] over either a 7 or 15 year period. These results indicate that we would expect the present value of energy savings earned through weatherization to exceed weatherization installation costs for programmable thermostats, attic insulation, and air sealing.”Summing up several decades of program evaluations, Fred Sissine’s 2012 paper, “DOE Weatherization Program: A Review of Funding, Performance, and Cost-Effectiveness Studies,” reported, “Over the program’s history, DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the Office of Management and Budget have used process and impact evaluation research methods to assess WAP operations and estimate cost-effectiveness. Virtually all the studies conducted through 2005 showed that the program was moderately cost effective.” Taking a broader viewIs the low-income weatherization program cost-effective? It’s hard to say. The weatherization work performed by some community action agencies is almost certainly cost-effective, while the work of other agencies may not be. These differences depend on climate, fuel costs, housing stock types, worker skills, and a variety of assumptions, including assumptions about future energy cost increases.“The WAP program is running out of high users,” John Doe told me. “Average natural gas usage has dropped. A few decades ago, the average house used 1300 therms of gas a year; now it is 900 therms. There used to be a lot of houses with inefficient refrigerators and naturally aspirated furnaces. The programs are running out of that type of house. Over time, the worst of the housing stock gets knocked down, or it has been insulated by some program or another. The housing stock is getting more efficient. Furnace efficiency standards, water heater efficiency standards, improved insulation — it has all added up to significant reductions in energy use.”While it may be harder in 2015 to show that the work performed by WAP is cost-effective than it was in 1985 or 1995, that doesn’t mean that the money invested in the program is wasted. After a house is weatherized, the house becomes more comfortable to live in, and the low-income family living in the house sees lower fuel bills. All kinds of social benefits flow from this type of work.“These programs are typically judged by including the associated ‘non-energy benefits’ in addition to the direct energy savings,” wrote Martin Kushler. “These multiple benefits include things like the effects on comfort, health, safety (e.g., WAP typically installs smoke detectors, CO detectors, fixes wiring problems, fixes gas leaks, etc.), increased value of the improved housing stock, reduced utility-bill payment arrearages and non-payment collection costs (which saves money for all ratepayers), improved ability to remain in the dwelling and not have to be relocated, etc. Studies exist in the industry that quantify these types of variables, and when taken in aggregate, the non-energy benefits’ value can nearly equal, or even exceed, the direct energy savings value… The study [by Fowlie, Greenstone, and Wolfram] … simply ignores those other multiple benefits, and does not quantify them in the analysis. This methodological flaw pre-ordains the conclusion.” A recent paper on the cost-effectiveness of weatherization work has received much more attention in the popular press than have similar studies in the past. The researchers concluded that weatherization measures performed at five nonprofit community action agencies in Michigan weren’t cost-effective. Newspaper headline writers have had a field day, trumpeting generalizations that aren’t supported by the limited data collected by researchers. (A typical headline: “Study: Home efficiency upgrades fall short, don’t pay.”)Energy experts familiar with weatherization programs have suggested that the headline writers should have dug a little deeper into this story than they apparently did, but these measured voices have gained less attention than the “Weatherization Doesn’t Pay” headlines.The controversial paper, “Do Energy Efficiency Investments Deliver?,” was written by three economists: one from the University of Chicago, Michael Greenstone, and two from the University of California at Berkeley, Meredith Fowlie and Catherine Wolfram. (Some of the paper’s findings were summarized by Scott Gibson in a recent GBA news story, “Blows Against Two Carbon Reduction Strategies.”) Energy savings don’t amount to much when energy is cheapIn my opinion, WAP is an excellent program. I’m proud that some of my federal tax dollars are used to perform energy-efficiency improvements in the homes of low-income families. (Unfortunately, I can’t really say the same thing about some of the other ways that the federal government spends our tax money — but that’s another story.)According to Merrian Borgeson, a senior scientist for energy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, the study by Fowlie, Greenstone, and Wolfram has not been peer-reviewed. The three researchers might have been able to repair some of the paper’s flaws if it had undergone the usual peer-review process. Moreover, Greenstone’s attempt to generalize from the study’s limited data is indefensible.That said, the researchers make some valid points — some of which are frequently mentioned on GBA. Here are two:When weatherization workers enter data into existing energy modeling programs, the software usually overpredicts future energy savings, for two reasons: the inputs are often wrong, and the software programs have flaws.Energy retrofit work on existing houses is not the fastest or most cost-effective way to address our looming climate change crisis.Weatherizing old houses isn’t easy work. The most cost-effective examples of this work occur when all of the stars are aligned: when the house being worked on is poorly insulated and leaky; when there is good access to the basement and attic; when fuel costs are high; when the work is not impeded by hazards like asbestos, faulty electrical wiring, or a wet basement; when the crew is well trained and well motivated; and when the implemented measures are limited to measures with a proven track-record for cost-effectiveness.When it comes to weatherization work, things have gotten a little tougher recently. The average house is using less energy than it used to, so there are fewer opportunities for dramatic savings. At the same time, energy — especially natural gas — is cheap. Meanwhile, labor isn’t getting any cheaper. And many older homes still have the same grab-bag of problems that have always plagued weatherization workers: water entry into basements, small access hatches, asbestos duct insulation, lead paint, knob-and-tube wiring, and cramped attics filled with long-forgotten possessions.Fourteen years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency launched Home Performance with Energy Star, a program that hoped to lure contractors into a lucrative new field: providing energy retrofits for middle-class and upper-class Americans. As Nate Adams (among many others) discovered, it’s hard to make money doing this sort of work. (Nate Adams wrote a series of blogs on this topic for GBA; the first blog in his series was titled How an Efficiency Program Killed My Business.) Customers for this type of work are hard to find, so client-acquisition costs are high. Homeowners require lots of hand-holding. And most old houses have a lot of problems that need to be fixed before energy retrofits can start.While these facts about weatherization work need to be acknowledged, it’s important not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. In many areas of the country, there are lots of opportunities to perform cost-effective work: for example, by replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs or LEDs, or by swapping old single-speed swimming pool pumps for new variable-speed pumps. It still pays to seal up the large holes in our nation’s attics, and the attic insulation in many homes is still appallingly thin. We need to continue to work at addressing these problems, while simultaneously investing in a variety of other measures designed to reduce our nation’s carbon emissions. GBA Prime subscribers can read a great many posted comments at the page where this article was originally published: Is Weatherization Cost-Effective? If you are a GBA Prime subscriber, that page remains the best place to post comments. Non-subscribers are invited to post comments below.
Opportunities for builders to obtain building science education may seem scant, but opportunities for people who own and operate buildings — particularly homeowners — are even rarer. About two years ago, this lack led to my developing a class for homeowners called “How (Older) Homes Work” (HOHW). My good friend and colleague, Steve Snider, really got got the ball rolling when he suggested that I come to his community (Newton, Massachusetts) to do this training as a two-evening seminar through a group called Historic Newton. The students were members of Historic Newton who owned and (frankly) needed help with their older homes. We intentionally set the two sessions a week apart, giving attendees a chance to digest the basics of building science and building performance, and to come back the next week with key questions and even their own projects for discussion.RELATED ARTICLESDo Homeowners Need to Understand Home Performance?Embarking on the Building Science Learning CurveGreen Building for BeginnersEnergy Upgrades for Beginners Building science basics for homeowners I have now done about a half dozen HOHWs in Vermont and Massachusetts. Most recently, the Western Massachusetts Green Consortium hosted HOHW at the World War II Club in Northampton, drawing over 60 people the first night with about 45 returning the following week. Here’s how the educational sessions were described in a Northampton HOHW press release: “Session 1, February 27, examines how heat and moisture interact in buildings, and looks at some building science ‘puzzles.’ As we make our homes more energy efficient, we shift the energy-moisture balance and potentially damage that building or compromise the health of occupants. Session 2, March 6, is an opportunity to bring your own building science puzzles and questions and will conclude with a survey of the tools and techniques used to diagnose building issues and energy efficiency.” The homeowner interest and demand for building performance knowledge is there. Here are some post-event survey comments from Northampton attendees: “Lots of good in-depth information.” “Very eye-opening; thank you!” “Could have used a third session!” “Excellent delivery of this information – so fundamental – so interesting!” “I understand some things that are going on in my home now.” Rules for this type of educational session Here is what I have learned from the How Older Homes Work events so far: We need to ensure that home inspectors, building performance auditors, and high-performance remodelers are all up-to-date on their building science knowledge so that homeowners can connect the results from the work of each. The internet is a double-edged sword for homeowners; they have access to a tidal wave of information about buildings, but the information generally overwhelms them rather than informing or guiding them. Scheduling a week between the two 2.5-hour sessions is really important. Everyone needs time to chew on so much new information. Start with simple, basic information, but don’t eliminate technical content; attendees will find their own level of understanding, which changes over time and with further study. Start with basic rules and then build to more complex examples. For example: Manage building performance in this order: water leaks, air leaks, drying, heat. Existing building performance is more complicated than new; with existing buildings, you need to assess and understand historical performance and current performance before you can improve building performance. There are three sources of moisture in buildings: the enclosure, the mechanical systems, and the occupants. They interact, so improving building performance almost always involves all three. Avoid building industry jargon and acronyms. (This is one I struggle with.) Homeowners only? Are “How (Older) Homes Work” events for building industry professionals as well as homeowners? I do encourage homeowners who are working with a builder or architect to bring the builder or architect with them. I also encourage building industry professionals to bring clients or prospective clients. But take care: this event is for homeowners, not the industry. On the second night of the Northampton HOHW, I let detailed technical questions from building professionals drive too much of the discussion and ran out of time for covering homeowner questions or an epic case study that one homeowner brought. Homeowners can use a questionnaire when interviewing designers or builders For the GBA community, one element introduced at the HOHW sessions is worth considering: a questionnaire for homeowners to use as they interview prospective building professionals for their project. Here is a link to the questionnaire. This is a draft document, and I am sure we can improve and sharpen this tool. I believe it is a tool for both homeowners and building professionals to use. For both, it is a way to distinguish high performance building in the marketplace. Author’s note: Many thanks to the Sustainable Energy Outreach Network and its staff (Guy Payne and Theresa Spear) for working with Building-Wright to make more of the HOHW events available to New England communities. Peter Yost is GBA’s technical director. He is also the founder of a consulting company in Brattleboro, Vermont, called Building-Wright. He routinely consults on the design and construction of both new homes and retrofit projects. He has been building, researching, teaching, writing, and consulting on high-performance homes for more than twenty years, and he’s been recognized as NAHB Educator of the Year. Do you have a building science puzzle? Contact Pete here.