The murky world of energy efficiency politics

On June 24, a coalition of 22 trade associations sent a letter to the Department of Energy, wondering why it seems like they are getting frozen out of residential energy auditing and retrofit work. The issue at hand is the voluminous Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades. The guidelines are filled with all sorts of stuff about HVAC and plumbing. The problem, according to the 22 organizations signatory to the June 24 letter, is that nobody asked the plumbing and HVACR industries about this stuff.

On June 24, a coalition of 22 trade associations sent a letter to the Department of Energy, wondering why it seems like they are getting frozen out of residential energy auditing and retrofit work. The issue at hand is the voluminous Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades. The guidelines are filled with all sorts of stuff about HVAC and plumbing. The problem, according to the 22 organizations signatory to the June 24 letter, is that nobody asked the plumbing and HVACR industries about this stuff.

"We are alarmed at the limited and opaque process by which the Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades and the selection process for the Workforce Guidelines Certifying Body are being carried out," the coalition says in the letter to Dr. Henry Kelly, acting assistant secretary, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

The coalition includes everybody who's important in the field, such as Air Conditioning Contractors of America, Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association, Air-Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute, both model code groups and even the National Association of Home Builders.

The 22 were put together through the efforts of Charlie McCrudden, vice president, government relations, for ACCA. McCrudden said that the group talked about their concerns and realized that the only people with the answers are at DOE.

The associations worry that the Building Performance Institute, Malta, N.Y., has an inside track to do all of the contractor certification for home energy auditing and energy retrofits. The 22 organizations asked DOE what's going on with what should be an open process for selecting independent certifying bodies. So far it seems like there's only one — BPI. Not only that, it appears that the Feds are helping BPI write the standards.

"At the Workforce Guidelines Certification Scheme Committee Meeting last month we heard some disturbing news about the selection process," the letter states. "It was publicly stated by DOE and NREL officials that the process had already concluded and that NREL was in the final stages of negotiating a contract with a single, unnamed entity."

So why does the name BPI ring a bell? It turns out it was written into the federal Home Star legislation that we wrote about last summer. So how did BPI get itself written into the Home Star legislation? Larry Zarker, the CEO of BPI, said he doesn't know.

Zarker has been working with DOE since 1980 when he first worked in Washington. He has worked with HUD and the EPA over the years and he was with the NAHB Research Center for 20 years doing marketing for research programs on behalf of homebuilders and remodelers.

What I'm wondering is how a nice guy who is as straightforward and forthcoming as Larry Zarker can set off my BS detector. He told me that he did not have anything to do with BPI being written into the Home Star legislation and that BPI does not have a lobbyist. I don't believe that things like that happen by accident. I'm not saying anything untoward is going on, but BPI is deeply, deeply entrenched with the energy conservation community.

If you look at BPI staff and board of directors, it includes people with backgrounds with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the U.S. Green Building Council, the Energy Star program and the Laborers International Union of North America.

All of the relevant players make the rounds to the same events. If you look at the speaker roster for events such as the Residential Energy Services Network 2011 RESNET Building Performance Conference and the Affordable Comfort Inc. ACI Home Energy Summit, it includes Zarker, Benjamin Goldstein, the DOE project lead on the home performance workforce guidelines, a representative of LIUNA, and somebody from the national labs like Pacific Northwest National Labs.

To say the least, it's all very cozy. It would not be out of the question that Zarker is hanging out in the speakers' lounge with the guy running the workforce guidelines program for DOE, along with people from NYSERDA, LIUNA, the national labs and USGBC.

The whole arrangement doesn't smell right. The coalition letter to DOE asks that the process be done over and I agree 100%.

I have a much longer and more detailed take on this issue in my blog, As I See It.