Saturday, November 28, 2009

Why I resist the Austin Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure (ECAD) Ordinance

I have serious philosophical disagreements with, and question the merits of, the Austin Energy Conservation and Disclosure Ordinance that was passed by the Austin City Council in June of 2009.

My wife and I bought our modest 1500 square foot Austin Texas home in January of 2006. Our home is tucked away in a cul-de-sac, our neighbors are awesome and we love the short commute to work. But our home was built in 1982 and needed some work. In our home we do use compact flourescent bulbs in almost all ceiling and lamp lighting fixtures. Our heating, ventilating and air conditioning is controlled by a programmable thermostat.

As new homeowners my wife and I paid $9000 to replace all of the original aluminum-framed windows. Some window frames were cracked, some seals were compromised and a few wouldn't open at all. Sears was offering a 12-month same as cash deal, so we entered a contract to have them install their vinyl windows. They look great, block the noise and open easily with little effort.

Our disappointment began when my wife and I tried to redeem a $250 window replacement rebate that Austin Energy was offering. A rebate works like this, the homeowner spends his or her capital on a resource (windows) and the city-run monopoly, (Austin Energy) writes the homeowner a check after one of their staff visits the property to verify that new energy efficient windows were installed. My wife and I faxed the required Austin Energy rebate paperwork and then we waited. And we waited. We never heard from any Austin Energy employee to inform us that they had received the paperwork and were processing it. My wife and I decided to submit the paperwork again, and once again we heard nothing.

After the windows were replaced I added some cellulose insulation to the attic (our home was built in 1982), I installed a two-sided aluminum radiant barrier and sprayed polyurethane foam over all of the attic air conditioner ducting to seal it from air leaks. I sealed all plumbing penetrations into our home with caulk and improved the exterior doors weatherstripping where appropriate. We kept all of our receipts for the improvements and were able to claim these purchases as a deduction on our federal taxes. So far, so good.

Sadly, the Austin City council and the Austin Energy manager, Roger Duncan, believe themselves to be the self-annointed arbiters chosen to protect our city from a harmless and colorless gas, -carbon dioxide. There is no scientific proof that carbon causes an increase in the planet's average temperature. (Google "Climategate") The City of Austin created the Climate Protection Plan to "Cool Austin. Cool Planet". The statist control-freaks of the CPP created a "municipal plan", a "utility plan", a "home and buildings plan", a "community plan" and a "go neutral plan". Each of the plans references the usual carbon-cult koolaid jibberish about carbon footprints and carbon emissions. Buried in the "homes and buildings" plan is this little gem: "Require disclosure of historic energy use and cost-effective energy efficiency improvements upon the sale of all buildings."

On the 17th of September, 2008 the Energy Efficiency Upgrades Task Force
their final report to the Austin Mayor and city council. On page 9 you learn that the statist control-freaks were out-voted 4 to 19, "If the Voluntary Participation Targets are not met in any two consecutive years, then all homes sold in the City of Austin that are located within the Austin Energy service area be required to perform Cost Effective Upgrades within one year of closing."

That's right ladies and gentlemen, we almost had mandatory upgrades from the City of Austin to correct every little energy efficiency short coming discovered on your private property.

But the icing on the cake was this hat-tip to liberty-robbing, intrusive big government. If an Austin homeowner fails to get an Energy Conservation and Disclosure Audit, then he or she will be
charged with a Class C misdemeanor. Curiously, Austin City councilmember Mike Martinez said: "There's never a good time to add fees to a transaction," said City Council Member Mike Martinez, "but I think this requirement is a good thing. It allows the consumer to fully understand the purchase they're about to make. If you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an investment, you would want to know how efficient that investment is going to be for you."

As a libertarian and fan of Austrian economics I find it odd that Mike Martinez is talking about "consumers". Since Austin Energy is a monopoly and I can't purchase electricity from any other provider as a resident of Austin, I'm not a customer. I must buy electricity from the Austin Energy monopoly, I must pay for an energy audit that violates my rights as a property owner and before long I will "must" have to correct all deficiencies found during the ECAD audit.

Allyson Wendt at notes, "The ordinance tackles only energy reporting, but some are hopeful that mandatory energy-efficiency improvements will be next." According to Nathan Doxsey, who sat on the task force that developed the ordinance, Doxsey hopes that increased awareness will make it possible for the city to pass a mandatory improvements clause when it reevaluates ECAD in two years. “I’m collecting testimonials from people who have done upgrades,” he told EBN. “Most are saying it was really easy.” The article continues, "Not everyone is upset about the ordinance. Lindsay Yeakley, owner of green building and remodeling firm Ultraverte in Austin, thinks it’s a great idea. “It’s the dinosaur homes that are consuming a lot of energy,” she says, noting that homebuyers who know what they’re buying might be more likely to make improvements."

Well Mr. Doxsey and Ms. Yeakley, the ECAD doesn't measure the homeowners actual electricity use. For example, if I own a mobile home without a foundation, a condominium, or a home that's newer than 10 years old, I can use 10,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a month and be exempted from the ECAD ordinance. So use all the electricity you want! I own a 27-year old home and my average electricity
consumption for 2008 was 638 kwhs per month. Yet I'm subject to the nanny-state, control-freaks who tell me that I have to take my financial resources and spend it on an energy audit. This is my home and the amount of electricity I purchase from the City of Austin electricity monopoly is none of your business. The Austin Energy Conservation and Disclosure ordinance doesn't measure a homeowners actual electricity use. This shortcoming is its fatal flaw.

The carbon-koolaid drinkers proclaim that energy efficiency will reduce the need to build new power plants. COAL POWER PLANTS! Alas, the rhetoric doesn't match reality. The wikipedia entry for "Austin Energy" notes that two new natural gas-fired 50-megawatt simple cycle units at the Sand Hill Energy Center will be completed in the summer of 2010. And the Austin City Council approved the "...gave the go-ahead for Gemini Solar Development Co. to build the 300-acre solar array that would generate 30-megawatts annually, enough electricity to power 5,000 homes."

I love it when solar power plant figures are reported in the misleading "homes-it-will-serve" style. A solar panel or solar array produces less power on cloudy days or when the solar panels become dirty. Solar arrays don't produce one millivolt of electricity at night. Gas-fired generators have to be idled on standby to handle the unpredictable power output inherent in the output solar power provides. If solar were a free-market solution, the marketplace would have adopted it.

Luckily some Texas lawmakers beyond the borders of Austin's carbon-koolaid nonsense are
standing up for little people like me: "However, an amendment bound for a conference committee in the state Legislature could strip the ordinance of its teeth. The amendment says that "a municipality may not impose a criminal penalty on the seller of real property for the failure to perform an energy audit." Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, filed the amendment to an energy efficiency bill introduced by state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay.

Representative Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, and state Senator Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay

Mr. Keffer and Mr. Fraser, thank you gentlemen for introducing your amendment.

Here is the text of the amendment to Senate Bill 546,

Amend SB 546 by adding the appropriately numbered SECTION as follows and renumbering all other SECTIONs accordingly: SECTION ____. Chapter 214, Local Government Code, is amended by adding a new Section 214.9015 as follows: Sec. 214.9015. ENERGY CONSERVATION REQUIREMENTS ON THE TRANSFER OF REAL PROPERTY. (a) A municipality may not impose a criminal penalty on the seller of real property for the failure to perform an energy audit.

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