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As Long as We Remember...

October 20, 2009

Another Governmental Boondoggle

Farrell Keough

As predicted one year ago, the Office of Sustainability is working toward growth even in these most dire of times.


In short, not only is this Board of County Commissioners looking to increase our government yet again, but it is doing so at a time when contraction of government is necessary rather than expansion – especially when the position [Director of the Office of Sustainability] is one having such great potential for further expansion and influence.


The commissioners have embarked upon this growth using grant money from the federal government. Both a Sustainability Program Coordinator and an Intern position under the Office of Sustainability have been financed via this grant for approximately three years.


As stated by the current director of the Office of Sustainability, Hilari Varnadore:


“I will note that in preparing our grant application this spring to EECBG [Energy Efficiency & Conservation Block Grant], it was suggested that building code amendments come first. They are the low-hanging fruit, in terms of energy efficiency and conservation. The Director of Permitting and Development Review has suggested that building envelope thermal performance, heating and cooling equipment, ductwork, and ventilation code amendments could be implemented within 18 months. These amendments will increase building energy efficiency and reduce overall energy consumption. These elements are standard in most local government building codes.”


These “low hanging fruit” of regulation are based upon the commissioners’ Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy as well as the EECGB program initiatives “to improve energy efficiency and reduce energy use and fossil fuel emissions in U.S. communities.”


Numerous assumptions are included in these strategies, including – but not limited to – the idea that adding more regulation, cost, and excessive time to our building code will somehow affect the global climate. While this sounds and feels very warm and friendly, it is rife with falsehood and only accomplishes increasing costs, which is more harmful to the broader public than beneficial. Even if you buy into global warming, et al., it is patently untrue that these small, yet costly, local requirements will have any effect what-so-ever on the globe.


But this is not where these new costs and programs end. Included in this program will be Home Energy Audit Pilot Projects, which will “provide free home energy audits to at least 84 Frederick County households.”


If you did not catch it, these Home Energy Audits are free! What more could you want from a government service?


Consider how free these audits will be. Not only will we be paying for the employees involved – in case you forgot, we all pay taxes so these federal grants can be made and since they are applied via a formula and the money must go through any number of salaried federal employees before being doled out, hence, what came into the federal coffers is far less than what each locality may receive – but the costs do not end there.


This is a situation where our local government is impinging upon the private sector. Companies already exist that perform these services, and they employ people who in turn pay taxes. In short, this is a situation in which our local government has not only determined to provide a service which already exists in the private sector, but has gone a step further and is providing that service at no cost to private individuals throughout the county.


There is nothing wrong with energy efficiency; it is a very good thing to pursue. But, it is a function of the private market finding the best cost efficiency and taking advantage of the cost benefit of determining the upfront cost of such efficiency versus the long term savings.


This is often where the government defines benefits under a different standard. Consider a Management Services presentation to the commissioners from October 7, 2008. The bottom-line determination of this presentation, [slide 22, page 11 printed on sheet] was a $150,590 on-going annual savings since fiscal year 2006. What is not included in this bottom-line savings is the cost to achieve these estimated energy savings. Unlike you or me, the cost and initial outlays for these Earth saving materials and components are not a consideration to our government entities.


The Sustainability Commission – a group composed of volunteer citizens from the county – will be on retreat in November developing a work plan for the next year. I was able to meet with one of the members of this group to discuss his perspective. In short, his position is, whether you believe in the environmental concerns or benefits of such an office or commission, our dependence upon foreign oil is both a foolish business decision and legitimate national security predicament.


This position has merit and should be considered. Unfortunately, government rarely makes wise decisions when it comes to either business interests (as noted above), or national security alternatives. More often than not, the private market and the constraints of cost/benefit determines a much wiser course of action.


It should also be noted that the change from our petroleum based dependency will take years to accomplish. Our entire system is currently based upon this paradigm, thus to alter our entire logistical system will be a huge cost. And one must also remember the various groups and organizations which will clash with each other over such changes; for instance, environmental groups which will not allow solar energy panels to be placed in uninhabited and desolate desert areas, wealthy groups which will not allow wind mills to be placed in sight of their valuable ocean side property, or the incredible costs and daunting permitting of placing new transmission lines to access the large windmill farms which may well put a blight on the landscape.


The final aspect of this new grant is the saved or created jobs promulgated by this current presidential administration. The Department of Energy approximation is $92,000 per job – even though this grant money is taxpayer financed, this will constitute one job “created and/or retained” for such stimulus activities.


In short, not only is this grant a redistribution of wealth and a false portrayal of economic stimulus, it will prove to be yet another inhibitor of business and additional cost to our county citizenry. This is anything but a sustainable promulgation by our board of county commissioners.


Woodsboro - Walkersville Times
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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