City's green project under investigation

September 21, 2009 8:34:52 PM PDT
First, there was the cash for clunkers. Now, it's the wave of weatherization. Billions are coming from the stimulus bill in the coming weeks to make some homes are more energy efficient. The city of Houston has already spent millions of your green on its green program. 13 Undercover's Wayne Dolcefino poses an age-old question. How much should it cost to screw in a light bulb?

The Addams family didn't have to worry much about the light bill in their haunted house. That's because Uncle Fester lived there.

Of course the rest of us have to find other ways to cut our light bill. The government says if every home in America replaced just one standard bulb with one of the new fluorescent kind, we'd save enough energy to light more than three million homes for a whole year, and save $600 million.

So Aaron Zenon is doing more than his fair share, because all of his light bulbs all over his house are those save the planet kind. In his ceiling fan, under the cooktop, there are 32 light bulbs in all.

"That's good to put that kind of stuff in the house," Zenon said.

He's happy, because Aaron didn't pay for the light bulbs. You did.

"I'm Bill White, Houston's mayor. Houston has established itself as a leader in green energy projects," White said in a videotaped piece.

So the city claims the $1,438 you spent on Aaron Zenon's house for insulation, weather stripping, caulk on windows and those light bulbs could cut his light bill hundreds of dollars a year.

"We have a responsibility to reduce the pollution that we put out on the Earth," explained Issa Dadoush with the City of Houston. "That's our responsibility. Our goal is to reduce our carbon footprint."

But take a closer look at the bills. We asked Zenon if he knew how much those light bulbs cost.

"Expensive," he responded.

They're expensive, all right. The city is charged nine dollars a bulb. Maybe no one at city hall ever heard of Home Depot.

Let's see... Energy saving light bulbs -- here they are. They're 75 watts, and Energy Star. Let's see, the city is paying nine bucks for one bulb. But you can buy them here for less than eight dollars for four of them. That's two bucks a bulb.

"It gives government a bad name because it shows government is not efficient," said council member Mike Sullivan.

Jesse Garza has some of those taxpayer bought light bulbs in his eastside home.

"For us it's nice because the city pays for it, but, I mean, it's still people paying for it with taxes," Garza said. "I don't know why they charge so much."

"Thank you for asking this question. It's a very good question," Dadoush said. "The contract has four other line items, and they were all competitively bid back in 2007."

The city told us handing folks free light bulbs isn't good enough, because they might not screw them in. So a government contractor has to.

Sullivan asked, "Why are we spending taxpayer money to install light bulbs?"

Leave it to city hall to even calculate a price for screwing in light bulbs -- $2.35 a bulb. There's even a price for light bulb disposal -- 50 cents a bulb. What you commonly call throwing the old bulb in the trash. And don't forget the 25 percent markup for overhead and profit on a light bulb.

Jesse Garza thinks the city is paying too much.

Wayne asked, "You know how to install a light bulb."

"Anybody can do that," Garza laughed. "Even my wife can do that."

We'll let Jesse deal with his wife on that one, while we ponder the $169,000 the city has spent just on energy saving light bulbs at nine bucks a pop.

"Nobody would pay nine bucks for a two dollar light bulb," Wayne said. "Nobody. You know that."

Dadoush responded, "Wayne, again, thank you for that remark."

The city says to be fair we should look at all the other weatherization prices they pay. Ok. We did. And council member Mike Sullivan doesn't like what we saw.

He said, "It's almost like the $600 toilet seat for the army."

Most of us won't be getting a free makeover from city hall. But we are all paying for it. And it's green all right...

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