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The widget world of energy efficiency is governed by the Technical Resource Manual, or TRM.  A technical resource manual includes energy calculations requiring baselines and efficient equipment specifications, hours of use, and duty cycles.  It also includes cost differences for baseline and efficient equipment.  Costs and savings from TRMs are used across the board for mass market, and even in some cases large, far too large in my opinion, equipment.

Technical resource manuals may be held at the state level, which may apply to all programs/utilities in the state, or at the utility level.  Some in our industry are advocating for a national TRM and developing a repository of TRMs from throughout the country.  This is a self-serving waste of time and a bad idea for consumers/customers.  It is self serving because some companies lobby for things so they can get a massive project to make it happen, but this rant is about why this is a waste of time and a bad idea.

In a nutshell, it is a waste of time because Vermont is not Texas.  Vermont is not Texas politically, climatically, economically, demographically, and a couple dozen other lorem ipsumicallies.  Nor is the market in Texas the same as Vermont.  Utilities within certain states don’t even want to use a statewide TRM from their state.  Why?  Reasons might include the utility doesn’t like the state TRM because it is technically inferior or it doesn’t match even their relatively localized customer base.  Possibly the utility has been implementing programs for a couple decades while maybe the munis and rural electric cooperatives have been at it for only a few years.  The demographics and markets are much different.

Federalism may sound like centralizing power and control, but it is the opposite.  It involves decentralized power and states rights and this is the way EE programs and associated TRMs should be controlled and maintained.  One reason is simply one size does not fit all, whatsoever.  The other is turning any of this over to the woeful DOE is terrifying as it should be for any state, utility or ratepayer.

Even with state-administered programs, program administration, implementation, and evaluation become politically motivated, consciously or subconsciously.  There is a theoretical oversight mechanism, but the truth of the matter is, all parties have a vested interest in declaring the program portfolio as wonderful and the citizens should be so lucky to be endowed with such greatness of the state.  The state is responsible for everything – implementation, evaluation and oversight.  If during honest and accurate evaluation, substantial flaws and unsavory findings are uncovered, is the state going to want to allow these findings to show the state’s implementation side of things sucks?  I don’t think so.  Go along to get along.

Conversely, private sector implementation (utilities) with public sector evaluation or public sector oversight of evaluation is going to result in more brutally honest assessment.  For about the 36th time, the role of government is to help ensure people don’t get ripped off, but if government is the rip-off, who do you turn to?  SOL, buddy.

Turning over TRMs to the feds would be a disaster for several reasons, the first of which is it will become subject to political pressure by manufacturers, their lobbyists and federal hacks.  Believing otherwise is naïve.  Secondly, it’s like everything else, the further the decision making is from where the money is collected and spent, the more wasteful it becomes.  Money collected from people in your hometown is more carefully spent than money collected from fools in another time zone.

Regarding EE, states and markets are about as unique as buildings.  Consider motives behind the push to nationalize TRMs or even maintenance policy, the hilarious-if-it-weren’t-true terrible track record of the DOE, and loss of control states would have for their unique situations.  Like many other things, only Washington will like it.

Ok.  I can’t let this pass, because it explains almost exactly what I said about two years ago in Playing with Fire.  The Wall Street Journal opinion writers just penned this: which states the Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing” (buying US debt with freshly printed money), doesn’t fool anyone, raises commodity costs, takes onus off drunken binge spending in Washington, and is building a debt bomb which sooner or later needs to be financed with real people’s money – oh, and does absolutely nothing to spur the economy with any persistence.  The cycle goes like this:

  • Print money flooding the bond market with cash which drives down interest rates.
  • Banks have no incentive to lend money because it’s all risk (of rising interest rates) and no reward (low interest earnings).
  • Investors, particularly retired people, have no low-risk decent-return place to put short term cash.
  • Economy ticks up driving commodity prices higher and inflationary pressure, with dime a dozen dollars.
  • Rising commodity prices and inflationary pressure pull the economy down.
  • Repeat.

To be successful, one has to recognize what failure looks like.  Getting off this merry-go-round will be painful.  We’re deadening the agony of a hangover with a few shots of booze and doing it again and again.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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