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Monday, February 1, 2010

Cost-ineffective "green" investment

The NY Times reported Sunday plans for a $133 million renovation of the Portland (Ore.) Federal building. By using innovative technologies to make the building more “green,” the government will save $280,000 a year. At that rate, it will pay for itself in 475 years.

Even by relaxed standards of Federal pork-barrel spending, this is ridiculous. Was the government unwilling or unable to find a lower bidder? Did it not have some higher priority project to fund instead? Or is this a payoff to local politicians?

Many energy efficiency retrofits have payoffs of 2-10 years: with tax credits some claim payoff of only 17 months. In fact, a 5:1 ratio was implied by a 2009 announcement by energy secretary Steve Chu of a $454m energy efficiency program. Even LED lightbulbs might have a payoff of 5-10 years.

It’s an abomination that such a project was even considered, let alone proceeding ahead. There are no shortage of buildings in this country awaiting improvements in efficiency. This same $133 million could produce annual savings of $10, $15 or even $25 million, instead of 1/10 or 1/100 of that.

Given that the wastefulness has been long known, why is it continuing? The Green stimulus money will at some point be gone — perhaps after FY2010 — and wouldn't it make sense to prioritize the money to achieve the greatest impact? Y’know, to spend it the way an concientious individual, business or nonprofit would do it?

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