Balancing Benefits: What should be prioritized in energy efficiency policy?
Energy efficiency offers many benefits: lower energy bills for residents, a more manageable electric grid for utilities, and fewer carbon emissions for us all. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) added another policy goal when it asked that energy efficiency also serve as an engine for job growth and economic recovery. Designing a large-scale energy efficiency initiative that satisfies multiple objectives is challenging, and it raises important questions about what the ultimate goal of such policies are and what kinds of performance metrics should be used to gauge success.
In his thesis, Josh Sklarsky (MCP ’10) looked at the various lenses through which ARRA’s efficiency programs have been viewed. He noted that, while the primary goal of ARRA funding was to rebuild the economy in a more sustainable way by creating “green jobs”, its two main mechanisms for accomplishing this built on existing programs with separate established goals. The first was the Weatherization Assistance Program, which began in the 1970s and is intended to reduce energy bills for low-income residents. The second was the Energy Efficiency Community Block Grant program, established in 2007 to enable community-level efficiency improvements. Josh describes how, by offering increased funding for both programs along with an additional objective, ARRA created an amount of uncertainty for program managers who had to decide how to proceed.
Josh also discusses the varying metrics proposed for measuring the success of ARRA, although he found a problem with their overwhelming reliance on quantitative means. To understand both whether ARRA efficiency programs succeeding and what level of success they had, he suggests that DOE grant monitors conduct a qualitative review of community-level efficiency plans and use the results to create a standard evaluation methodology for determining what’s working. Read more about Josh’s thoughts on providing Federal guidance for local efficiency programs in his thesis here.