When does “being green” make sense? Perhaps not as often as you think.
Todd Myers, director of the Center for the Environment at Washington Policy Center, recently noted in a Wall Street Journal article that a “key mistake people make when it comes to energy efficiency is overestimating the benefit of some strategies, spending a dollar to save a dime.” He wrote:
Imagine walking up to someone sitting in a Lexus and offering a $5-an-hour job flipping burgers. How many people do you think would accept? Probably none.
Yet, I often see people waiting at Costco for half an hour to save 10 cents a gallon on gas. Even for the owner of an SUV with a 20-gallon tank the savings amount to two dollars, or just $4 an hour. The burger-flipping job would be a better use of their time!
…[S]ome argue we need so-called green construction standards like LEED. Government mandates, like LEED rules, are very expensive, and even when they do save energy (which they often do not), the savings realized are so small they rarely make sense.
Sometimes energy efficiency projects funded by taxpayers or ratepayers don’t pencil out, either. Here in Oregon, the Oregon Public Utility Commission is considering a request by the Energy Trust of Oregon to allow the Trust to spend ratepayer dollars on certain energy efficiency measures that no longer make financial sense. The Oregonian has correctly noted that if the estimated benefits of such projects are less than costs, we should stop spending ratepayer dollars on the subsidies.
Conservation measures can be justified when estimated benefits exceed costs. But if they don’t, public agencies (and the Oregon legislature) should discontinue “green” projects that cost more than they are worth.