Friday, July 22, 2011

Philips AmbientLED bulb creates jobs in China

As an Austin homeowner, I've followed the legislative collusion between corporate bulb manufacturers like Philips and GE, the United States Congress and the fringe environmental group NRDC; otherwise known as the National Resource Defense Council. How could these disparate groups agree to support the increased efficiency standards for 100 watt incandescent bulbs?

First, the profit margins per bulb on incandescent bulbs is very low. By supporting arbitrary efficiency standards that reliable, affordable incandescent bulbs can't meet, GE and Philips will profit from selling pricier LED bulbs and American consumers will pay more for light bulbs. Think of it as a light bulb tax.

Second, the NRDC's misguided focus on light bulb wattage, rather than the number of kilowatt hours a homeowner consumes is pointless. Five years ago I began purchasing shaded floor lamps with multiple sockets. As a consumer, I'll wait until a warm, 100-watt LED bulb is perfected, buy those and install them in my light sockets. You hand-wringing carbon-cassandra's will not tell me how many watts of lighting I may enjoy and consume in my home. Will 30 planned powerplants not have to be built to meet America's future energy needs? I doubt it.

Third, I love the verbal contortions environmentalist's twist themselves into. For example, the incandescent light bulbs have been banned in Europe since 2009 and this is offered as some sort of example that America should follow. (see "Europe's Ban on Old-Style Bulbs Begins", by James Kanter, August 31, 2009 The New York Times) If I wanted to follow Europe's example, I'd move there. Yet, this same American efficiency legislation for incandescent bulb enrages environmentalists who scoff at the word "ban". If I visit Lowe's and want to buy a 100 watt incandescent bulb, and they aren't manufactured anymore because of legislation, then it is effectively banned.

Fourth, politicians and environmental blogs have hailed the new efficiency legislation for incandescent bulbs as a job creation bonanza. It certainly does create jobs, if you live in China.

Now back to the bulb. I searched the Internet in vain for news about where the Philips AmbientLED, a dimmable, A19 bulb that some environmentalist's tout as a worthy, yet pricey successor to Edison's warm, reliable and affordable incandescent light bulb was made.

Since I couldn't find this information, I visited my local Home Depot and photographed the front and back of the Philips AmbientLED's packaging. And there it was. In the smallest font, on the back of the package, in the lower right-hand corner, this Dutch-owned, AmbientLED A19 bulb is made in China.

One last note. If these AmbientLED bulbs save consumers so much money on their utility/electricity bills, why isn't that cited on any of Amazon's customer reviews for this $40 60-watt bulb?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Austin Energy Best Offer Ever Omits Some Details

I love these Austin Energy propaganda pieces. 

In this Fox news report, Jerry Ollier, an Austin homeowner who has to buy electricity from Austin Energy; (there is no other provider to compete with Austin's power monopoly), needed to replace his defunct air conditioner. He calls Austin Energy or Strand Brothers and inquires about the rebates the utility is offering.

Austin Energy decides to hold a press conference to publicize the new "Best Offer Ever" program, calls Fox news, and tah-dah! A camera-crew shows up.

The reporter is outside with a window-shade installer who talks about a "60% sunscreen that effectively blocks and protects you from the glare and heat of the sun". I assume this sunscreen blocks 60% of the sun's heat in the winter too.

Mr. Ollier told the reporter that overall he was pleased with the improvements.

However, I'm always cautious when I don't hear these five words in news reports on home improvement projects that involve Austin Energy...How. Much. Did. It. Cost?

$5000? $10,000? We'll never know because the news reports never tell us.

So the next time you hear Austin Energy touting a single-family home energy retrofit, ask yourself, why is the cost of the work never mentioned?

Your Austin Energy Serf,

John Barksdale

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Austin Homebuyers Ignore Energy Audit Findings of Older Homes

The Austin American Statesman published Shonda Novak's July 16, 2010 article titled, "Impact of Home Energy Audit Rule Less Than Expected"

The Austin City Council Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure Ordinance has been in effect for one year, and Shonda's article was published to gage how well the central-planners at Austin City Council have done.

As an Austin homeowner, I was pleased with the results!

"Fears about effects on sales appear overblown" claims Shonda Novak, the article's writer. That's because the audit is a mandate on the homeseller. If a homeowner is worried about selling their private property, they won't have the time or energy to fight the audit. This sneaky provision was endorsed by the Austin Board of REALTORS.

The busy-body central planners at Austin City Council, with the cooperation of their personal utility monopoly, Austin Energy, told us these audits were meant to educate buyers about the energy efficiency of homes older than 10 year old trapped in the Austin Energy service area.

The article continues: "In 96 percent of the 4,862 audits conducted, the energy auditors recommended at least one improvement. However, only 520 homebuyers or sellers followed through on any of the recommendations."

Stated another way, 96% of the 4,862 audits conducted means 4667 homes needed at least one improvement. However, only 520 homebuyers or sellers, or 11% made the improvement.

So, 89% ignored the audit findings and enjoyed their private property.

"When buying a car, "we'd be aghast if there wasn't a window sticker saying how it performs as far as fuel economy," said Kristof Irwin, co-owner of Blue Heron Builders, an Austin-based green builder of custom homes, and Positive Energy, an energy audit firm. Because homes use a significant amount of energy, it's all the more important for an owner or buyer to know about its efficiency, he said."

Well an energy audit doesn't tell you what the "miles per gallon" of a home is. For example, how much electricity should the average 1500 square foot Austin home use in June? In June 2010, I purchased 1,031 Kilowatt hours of electricity for $103 from Austin Energy. And my home was built in 1982.

"There is a gold mine of energy savings in older homes," said Karl Rábago Vice president at Austin Energy, who oversees administration of the new ordinance.

Shonda continues, "The Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure ordinance applies to homes older than 10 years, with some exceptions, including homes that have had energy improvements within the past 10 years."

So if you own a home that's less than 10 years old, use all the electricity you want. No sanctimonious eco-nannies will harrass you!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Austin Energy Adds More Capacity

As an energy serf of Austin Energy, (I can't buy electricity from the free market in my geographic area), I received a copy of "PowerPlus", a full-color, two-sided flyer in my utility bill for the month of July.

The front page proudly proclaims:

"Two new jet engine-driven generating units have been added to the Austin Energy Sand Hill Energy Center, located just east of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. These 50 megawatt (MW) units are literally jet engines just like those on jetliners, except these engines have been modified to turn an electric generator. Fifty megawatts is sufficient electricity to power about 37,000 homes."

Wow. I thought the Austin City Council implemented the Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure ordinance to reduce energy usage. This stupid ordinance has been in place for one year and Austin Energy is adding more power generating capacity?

I thought we were going to conserve our way to some arbitrary amount of total annual megawatt consumption as determined by some carbon-hysterical, central-planning council?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I never agreed to an audit when I bought electricity

Recently, I was reflecting on the stupidity of the Austin City Council when they enacted the Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure ordinance. As the only provider of electricity in my geographic location in Austin, Texas, I'm forced to purchase electricity from Austin Energy. I can't buy electricity from any other utility.

When I agreed to sign up for electricity service from Austin Energy, I didn't recall any mandatory requirement to have an energy audit performed on my home when I sold it.

How can a provider of a service in a free market mandate an audit and change the terms of my contract after I've signed up for the service?

It's easy, if you're a city-owned, protected monopoly.

The City of Austin owns the utility, so it enjoys protection from competition as a regulated monopoly. When I signed up for electricity service from Austin Energy, in no part of my contract did it mention a requirement for an owner of a home older than 10 years old to have a mandatory energy audit performed at the point of sale.

I think a judge would be interested in hearing this case.

I keep asking for members of the Austin "green-community" to send me a check for $300 to cover my mandatory energy audit.

Still no takers.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Austin Board of REALTORS "urged" Task Force for audit

The more I learn about the Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure, the less I like it.

On page 8 of the Energy Efficiency Upgrades Task Force delivered to the Austin Mayor and Council on September 17th, 2008 it reads:

"The Task Force had initially considered and approved a prescriptive checklist of required efficiency upgrades in lieu of an audit. The advantage seen by the Task Force of such a list was that an individual homeowner could self assess and avoid the cost of an audit. However, the Austin Board of Realtors made a proposal to the Task Force urging that an audit be required before a property is sold with full disclosure to the Purchaser. That presentation is attached as Exhibit 2. On the basis of that proposal, the Task Force decided to adopt the recommendation of the Austin Board of Realtors and recommend that a third party audit be performed before a home is sold and the results of the audit disclosed to the purchaser."

I've contacted the Austin Board of REALTORS (ABOR) and asked two of their members why their representatives on the Energy Efficiency Upgrades Task Force "urged" homeowners who were selling their home to get an "energy" audit. I add quotes around the word energy because the audit never informs the homeseller or buyer how much energy the home should be using based on a national, regional or comparable home-size standard or average.

The audit will tell you if the attic needs more insulation, if the home is "leaking air" and if the HVAC ducts are leaking. The audit tells you if the windows have solar screens and how much shade covers the home. I don't know about you, but when the sun hits my Austin home on a cold February morning, I don't mind if the sun warms my windows too.

I was pretty gung-ho on the ABOR until I found out they were "urging" the audits to begin with.

I think I'll formally ask the Austin Board of REALTORS for $300. That should cover my home energy audit. Which is mandatory. And enforced by a Class C misdemeanor for non-compliance and a fine of up to $2000.

I can't wait to see what sort of stupidity Austin City Council has in store for Austin.

And by the way, do you think a homebuyer is going to base their home purchasing decision based on the current R-value of installed insulation in an attic?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Austin Board of REALTORS resisted the mandatory Energy Conservation Audit Disclosure (Thank you)

I found this article published about the Austin Energy Conservation Audit Disclosure in May 2008 on Austin Real Estate Today. I thought I'd repost it below.

Austin Board of REALTORS® Propose Alternative to Mayor Wynn’s ‘Point of Sale’ Ordinance

Austin Board of REALTORS® sent an email alert today to propose a change to Mayor Wynn’s Climate Protection Plan. So far, it looks like REALTORS® agree with most aspects of the plan. Like most solutions, there’s a few areas of contention. Here’s what the email alert outlined:

What’s this about?

In early 2007, Austin Mayor Will Wynn released the Climate Protection Plan with the goal of making Austin the “greenest” city in the country, [including] the “Proposed Point of Sale Ordinance”….The city’s proposal would require that homeowners upgrade their homes and obtain a “Certificate of Compliance” from the city before they’re able to sell it. We oppose this plan for several reasons:

Affordability – This type of out-of-pocket expense will prevent many homeowners from having the option to sell their home, particularly if they need to sell due to a difficult financial situation. In addition, the cost will inevitably be passed on to homebuyers, making it even more difficult to afford a home in Austin.

Extended sales process – Arranging the additional inspections needed to obtain a Certificate of Compliance (not to mention actually making the upgrades to properties) would draw out the time required to sell homes substantially. Further, Austin doesn’t currently have enough home inspectors in our city to fill the anticipated demand, promising even further delays.

Mandates- Do we want to require a “license” for homeowners to sell? – As it’s proposed now, this ordinance would essentially require that homeowners apply to the city for a “license” to sell their home (i.e. Certificate of Compliance). Do we want to spend our city’s resources on this activity and add this complication to the real estate process? Austinites buy and sell more than 25,000 homes each year…

What’s the alternative?

We support initiatives to promote energy efficiency in Austin, but the mandates under consideration are the wrong approach. Instead, we believe that a voluntary program that rewards Austinites in a meaningful way for making good decisions about energy efficiency is the right way to build long-lasting support.

ABOR proposes the following:

  • Support free energy audits in all Austin homes and include that information in ABOR’s Seller’s Disclosure Notice to allow the market to adapt to the "value" of energy efficiency in homes.

  • Expand the incentives for homeowners who voluntarily make upgrades to their homes by offering annual homestead exemptions and sales tax relief on items related to those upgrades.

  • Allow the 9000+ members of ABOR to act as educators who encourage homeowners to take advantage of the many programs Austin Energy already has in place.

  • Create and promote a “Green REALTOR®” designation.
Where are we now?

Currently, this proposal is under consideration by the Energy Efficiency Retrofit Task Force. Created by the Austin City Council, this task force is determining the specific guidelines of the ordinance (though it has already been determined that the ordinance will require existing homes to meet mandatory standards for energy efficiency before they can be sold). After the Energy Efficiency Retrofit Task Force completes its task, they will make recommendations to the Austin City Council. From there, Austin City Council members will vote on whether the ordinance will go into effect.

The real issue and discussion items

This debate is similar to the Universal Healthcare discussion. How effective and costly are mandates? Should we mandate that all homes be retrofitted or have incentive programs instead? I think it’s a balancing act. We want as many homes upgraded to be green, but at what cost to the taxpayers?