The Energy Out West
conference which is held every other year has been happening since it was first held as Energy Northwest in 1990, but being held this year in Boise, Idaho it was a great year to hold the conference. With the end of the Department of Energy's American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (DOE ARRA) program occurring in the very near future, a great deal of information and data has been made available to the participants of the conference.
According to Carol Gates from the DOE, in the two plus years of the DOE ARRA WAP
program more than 700,000 homes have been weatherized to increase their efficiency ratings and more than 2.5 million people have been served in the process. All of the people whose homes were worked are by definition low-income, whether owners or renters.
While the focus of the conference is energy efficiency, as always, this year the keynote speaker was Chris Gardner. Chris is the man whose autobiography was made into a movie starring Will Smith, the name of the movie is "The Pursuit of Happyness" (correctly misspelled).
I had only a moment to speak with Chris at the book signing afterward, but I walked away with an understanding of what a truly remarkable person he is, and how his message to simply "Start Where You Are" includes even the field of energy efficiency and building weatherization.
Energy efficiency programs go back nearly thirty years and out of that beginning, the concept of Energy Out West became the pinnacle of of energy training and awareness conferences. Dozens of professional and highly respected efficiency experts, from engineers and program specialists, to expert field personnel gather to offer training, advice and the ability to discuss the field of energy efficiency with their peers.
The 2012 conference agenda
was packed with several dozen opportunities to get the best information from the best in their field.
From Energy Audits to Lead Safe Weatherization and the admittedly esoteric "Working Through ASHRAE
62.2‐2010" session, the fundamentals of efficiency plus the extensive in-depth details of professional energy efficiency processes were offered to every level of expertise in the field.
The field of energy efficiency has gone through some difficult times in the past two years, with the passage of the American Reinvestment Act (ARRA) legislation in 2009.
While the politics of the legislation are able to engender strong resentment or effusive affirmation of the process, the facts remain as a solid foundation of what occurred.
In the process of hiring a more than a hundred thousand workers, the homes which were weatherized, as of the end of February total more than 700,000.
Each and every home which received retrofits and energy efficiency upgrades is another household which will wind up using less energy to heat or cool the home. And therein resides the benefit of both the DOE WAP and also in Energy Out West, which received partial funding from the Department of Energy, along with numerous sponsors from the private sector.
The Energy Out West (EOW) conference brought together those who know the nuts and bolts of how to weatherize homes, whether the low-income or high-income sector is the focus, the goal is the same – lower utility bills every month. And lower utility bills are directly translatable to reduced oil imports from the Middle East (for the Conservative folks) and reduced greenhouse emissions (for the Liberal folks).
As one of the more than 700 attendees of Energy Out West this year, I simply cannot overstate the value of the training and focused learning opportunities which are available at EOW. While the DOE ARRA WAP is drawing to a close soon, the need for better and more efficient housing stock will never go away. The solutions which are produced throughout the private sector industry to solve the problems we as a Nation face, are most easily promulgated within the framework of a centralized distribution, rather than having such a multitude of experts try to make the rounds of all the private sector contractors, CBO’s (Community Based Organizations) and governmental agencies who do the boots on the ground job.
After being in this field as both a private contractor and while working for a CBO for more than twenty years, the wealth of information made available at EOW I can only describe as invaluable. The amount of imported oil which wasn’t required to be purchased is enormous when one considers the length of time the Weatherization Assistance Program has been running, which was formulated at the time of the Arab oil embargo under then President Jimmy Carter.
As always, there are two sides to the argument of whether or not a conference such as Energy Out West should receive even a nickel of Federal funding. For the political spectrum on the Left, I offer the savings in fossil fuel energy as the self evident benefit.
For the more difficult sell to the Conservative political spectrum, I offer this. The number of private contractors involved in the weatherization process, both in federally funded programs and also privately funded moderate and high income housing energy efficiency upgrades has risen exponentially with the rise in fuel prices. The jobs provided are good paying jobs, and are but rarely unionized. The entry into the field shows no evidence of slowing down.
One benefit which should translate well despite any differences of political opinion is the reduced oil imports incurred by the United States. All of these are benefits which are greatly enhanced by the continuation of the Energy Out West conferences. It is my sincere hope that we as a nation will not be penny wise and dollar foolish in this area.
And perhaps more importantly, the core mission of the Department of Energy is to fund the development of cutting edge technologies, equipment and work practices. In so doing, the private sector contractors are given the ability to utilize the technology, equipment and work practices to put more people back to work. The key to that process is the private sector work force which can be created from the seed money used to develop what this nation needs so as to become energy independent.
Energy Out West is an integral force which has been born out of the necessity of networking the information from the combined energy efficiency workforce of this nation.
Ken Robinette, EOW Vice President and Executive Director of South Central Community Action Partnership (of Idaho) perhaps said it best.
“Base funding for DOE being reduced will run the risk of shrinking DOE’s core mission and also an inability to be a sponsorship partner to Energy Out West”
For a nation with such a dire need to become energy independent, I simply cannot think of a more disastrous course to take in relation to our energy future.