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A Two-Sided Stimulus Story in One Dimension

This past Saturday the Washington Post ran a detailed assessment of the stimulus funding related to energy-efficiency grants. Definitions differ based on the source, but the article uses the number of $25 billion and is “split roughly equally among programs for homes for low-income workers, federal buildings, public housing, military facilities, and initiatives by local and state governments.”

Besides refuting its own awkward headline, the piece also takes a short-run and limited view on a long-range effort. It focuses on bureaucratic headaches, fraud vulnerabilities, and some weak financial outlay records from a few states.

But nowhere in the article does the reader receive estimates of energy savings per project. Does saving $X per month in energy costs lead a household to spend that money elsewhere in the economy? The article also focuses on new jobs, but it seems apparent in the reporting that some jobs have been saved due to the effort. Whether created or saved, isn’t the goal to keep Americans employed during the downturn?

A more balanced effort would let readers know how much aggregate energy the country will save (conservation, after all, is the cheapest new source of energy available) moving forward and how many jobs were created or saved by the dollars spent. And while the criticisms are well-founded, especially on the bureaucratic-front, the federal government’s expanded foray into energy efficiency is a two-sided story given one-sided treatment.