03.11.09

Queue forms to receive part of $800 billion

Posted in Energy, Society at 12:33 by RjZ

In the last two weeks I’ve been to two different symposiums on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the Stimulus Bill. Both sold out their original venues and packed the newer larger ones to standing room only capacity. Both focused on the energy portions of the bill and featured Tom Plant, director of Governor’s Energy Office in Colorado. He’s an engaging speaker but I think over $800 million in government benefits had more to do with people lining up for a handout than his charisma.

Philosophically, you can guess, I am opposed to joining the queue, hat in hand, but the fact is, it’s my money (and yours) so we all have a vested interest in learning about how it’s being used. During the presentations and panels we heard well-meaning government officials ensure each of us that the intent of the bill is to create jobs, while also to building an infra-structure that will outlast the one-time funding it provides. However, the reason so many have come to this presentation, and others like it, isn’t the “why,” but the “how,” as in, “how do I get a piece of the pie for my business?”

Since symposiums focused on the energy funding part of the bill, we were able to hear not only from elected and appointed government officials, but from public and private utilities and the Colorado Public Utility Commission (PUC). We shouldn’t be surprised that their take on the intent of the bill, and how to implement it, differed from the Governor’s Energy Office. Always practical, the utilities want to make sure that projects are properly funded during the 18 month term of the bill, so their plan is to choose existing projects or ones that they’ve already budgeted.

We can appreciate their intention to ensure that accountable results are made sooner than later, one of the goals of the bill, but should we be surprised that government spending leads, once again, to further entrenching the status quo? Funding existing projects isn’t stimulus! It’s a handout to companies to continue with projects they were going to do anyway.

It’s not only utilities enjoying a windfall for activities they had planned anyway. Discussing Demand Side Management, Jeff Ackermann of the PUC said there are three types of people who will add solar to their houses, or purchase other efficiency improvements which reduce energy on the demand side. Some, he said, won’t add these improvements no matter what the government says or does. Some are thinking about it and need some encouragement, and some were going to do it anyway. It will be a victory if the stimulus bill converts a few who were on the fence, but those few will be paid right along with those who will enjoy government cash for going about their business as before.

For now, it remains to be seen whether or not these billions (and billions) of dollars will benefit new technologies and create green collared jobs, or if the stimulus bill will be the democrats’ version of Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down economics, favoring big existing institutions first, and finally filtering through to individuals and tax payers later, someday, maybe.

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