They have tried new regulations and financial incentives to get people to save energy.
But Boulder has found that financial incentives and an intense publicity campaign aren't enough to spur most homeowners to action, even in a city so environmentally conscious that the college football stadium won't sell potato chips because the packaging isn't recyclable.But it just doesn't seem to be working. In fact, even the environmentally conscious Boulder isn't achieving their own self-proclaimed goals.
A city of 100,000, tucked up against the Rocky Mountains, Boulder has a proud history of environmentalism. It was one of the first to levy a tax to protect open space. Residents bike to work at 20 times the national average.They could adopt more stringent measures like a proposal to mandate that apartment building owners provide up to $4,000 a rental unit for energy-saving improvements such as new appliances and windows. Of course, the building owners will pass those costs along to the renters - just the way to lower housing costs for those who can't afford to buy their own homes.
In 2006, Boulder voters approved the nation's first "carbon tax," now $21 a year per household, to fund energy-conservation programs. The city took out print ads, bought radio time, sent email alerts and promoted the campaign in city newsletters.
But Boulder's carbon emissions edged down less than 1% from 2006 through 2008, the most recent data available.
By the end of 2008, emissions here were 27% higher than 1990 levels. That's a worse showing than the U.S. as a whole, where emissions rose 15% during that period, according to the Department of Energy.
"If a place like Boulder that regards itself as being in the environmental forefront has such a tough time, these types of efforts are not going to work as a core policy" for the nation, says Roger Pielke Jr., who studies the political response to climate change at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
So Boulder has adopted another technique. At public expense, they're paying auditors to come out to your house, go through and tell you what needs to be done to save energy.
Since 2006, Boulder has subsidized about 750 home energy audits. Even after the subsidy, the audits cost each homeowner up to $200, so only the most committed signed up. Still, follow-up surveys found half didn't implement even the simplest recommendations, despite incentives such as discounts on energy-efficient bulbs and rebates for attic insulation.What to do if people just don't want to spend their own money? Why, that's why we had a federal stimulus program, doncha know? Using city and federal taxpayer money, Boulder is planning to take the nanny state to a whole new level.
About 75 businesses got free audits; they made so few changes that they collectively saved just one-fifth of the energy auditors estimated they were wasting.
"We still have a long way to go," says Paul Sheldon, a consultant who advises the city on conservation. Residents "should be driving high-efficiency vehicles, and they're not. They should be carpooling, and they're not." And yes, he adds, they should be changing their own light bulbs—and they're not.
Boulder plans to spend about $1.5 million in city funds and $370,000 in federal stimulus money to hire contractors to do basic upgrades for residents.Yup, that is federal money being spent to come to your house and install low-flow showerheads (haven't they seen that Seinfeld episode? - people hate low-flow showerheads!) and change your light bulbs. If people are too lazy to do what they should be doing, Obama will spend federal money to do it for you. Soon Michelle Obama will be coming to your house to cook vegetables for your kids. Or if she's too busy, maybe that is the type of jobs the federal stimulus can provide - "Two Cooks in a Truck" to come to your house and cook a healthy dinner for your family. Darn it! If people won't do what they should, the federal government just has to go ahead and do it for them.
In the program, dubbed "Two Techs in a Truck," as many as 15 energy-efficiency teams will go door-to-door. They'll ask home and business owners for permission to caulk windows, change bulbs and install low-flow showerheads and programmable thermostats—all at taxpayer expense. The techs will set up clothes racks in laundry rooms as a reminder to use the dryer less often. They'll even pop into the garage and inflate tires to the optimum pressure for fuel efficiency.
If they spot the need for bigger projects, such as insulation or a new furnace, the techs will help homeowners make appointments and apply for rebates.