Change starts with putting stimulus money directly in the hands of those who need it, incentivizing clean, renewable energy technology, which would stimulate American jobs while reducing the demand for dwindling oil supplies and reducing carbon emissions.
Like most Americans, I’m guarding my dollars, but when my furnace died during Seattle’s coldest winter in decades, I needed to replace it. And when I did, with a high-efficiency Trane model made in Trenton New Jersey, the costs and gains underscored key lessons about what we need to do to craft a stimulus package that actually builds for America’s future. My new furnace saves energy and fights climate change. It promotes American jobs, and pays back its costs in a reasonable time frame. It points toward how to genuinely renew America’s economy instead of encouraging the same consumption for consumption’s sake that has helped create our current problems.
Let’s look at what my $5,000 purchased. It supported Trane’s factory workers in New Jersey and in their main plant in Tyler, Texas, supported local Seattle installers, and supported beleaguered New Jersey, Texas, and Washington state and city governments through the sales tax I paid and the taxes paid by the companies involved. In my personal economy, it meant I’ll save more than a third of my yearly gas bill and a commensurate amount of my CO2 emissions. My old furnace was a thirteen-year-old 70% efficient model that was down to barely 60% because single-cycle furnaces lose 1% a year as their burners corrode and heat exchangers get less efficient. The new one is 97% efficient and will maintain far more efficiency because its variable speed motor is much easier on its components. I live in a relatively small and well-insulated house in a generally temperate climate, and I keep my thermostat low, but I’ve still been spending $850 a year on gas heat (solar panels take care of most of my hot water), and if I add in savings on my electric bill from the furnace’s extra-efficient fan, I’ll save roughly $340 a year at current gas prices, and more as fossil fuels of all kinds become scarcer. If natural gas costs continue to increase at their recent rate, 61% in the past five years, my investment will pay back in roughly nine years—a far better and safer return than I could get from any bank account or roller-coastering stock market investment. If I lived in a colder climate or had a larger or less-insulated house, the furnace would pay off sooner still. I’ll also prevent the release of roughly three tons of CO2 every year.
So how do we make similar choices affordable for everyone, whether or not they have the savings to do this on their own? Imagine if the pending stimulus package helped people make such investments nationwide, combining direct incentives with low or no-interest loans, along the lines of those long advocated by Al Gore. Imagine if it prioritized energy efficiency and investment in renewables, particularly those that are American-made.