This blog follows the latest trends in high performance housing from an insider's perspective. I am the General Manager of one of Ottawa's leading homebuilders - Urbandale Construction, and it gives me a firsthand view of how the industry is changing. I've seen the barriers that builders face when trying to market new technologies and I've been working directly to overcome these barriers to bring new energy efficient designs into Urbandale homes.

June 11, 2013 5 Comments

Would you want your tax dollars paying for someone else’s clean energy?

PecanThere’s a small community of around 1,000 homes just outside of Austin, Texas that is being used to research how we’ll be using energy in the future.  Pecan Street, supported by the US Department of Energy, the University of Texas and some major private partners, is studying families living in energy efficient housing with smart appliances and household energy management systems.  The community is powered exclusively with clean energy produced from renewable resources and distributed over a smart electricity grid.  It’s an ambitious project that looks at optimizing every aspect of energy production, distribution and use.  In their words, they’re “helping reinvent America’s electric system.”

Project partners General Motors and OnStar have offered residents a substantial discount on purchasing the Chevy Volt to monitor the impact of electric vehicles on the electric grid.  According to OnStar Vice President Nick Pudar, the project “provides a real-life lab for the automaker to observe charging patterns and how consumers and clean-energy technologies interact and support electric-vehicle charging. “

To me, this project is simply amazing.  Fossil fuels are non-renewable resources, so whether it happens in our lifetime or later, eventually all of our homes and vehicles will have to be converted to a fully electric system that uses renewable sources for power.  This project brings together academia, government, and major corporations putting serious money towards looking for alternate solutions that can fit with how we currently like to live as a society.

Apparently though, I’m in the minority of people who see this as a good thing.  I was surprised when I read the comments on this article to see hundreds of people posting on what a waste of taxpayer money this project is.  Based on the comments, it seems that the majority of Americans feel that any government funding into green energy or specifically electric vehicles distorts the free market and leads to inferior products that are forced on the public at higher costs.

To me, this article and the reactions to it point a critical barrier to further adoption of clean technologies.  People don’t trust the government to invest wisely and certainly don’t want them subsidizing big business.  But without government support, the technologies won’t get off the ground because they’re currently too costly to sell on their energy efficiency merits alone.  It’s not a simple problem, and it will take real political courage and leadership to create a shared vision for how we will produce and use energy in the future.

Posted by Matthew

5 Responses to "Would you want your tax dollars paying for someone else’s clean energy?"

  1. Richard E. Bickel says:

    The overall average cost for government supported research into more efficient electric operational systems is just Cents per Thousands of dollar value. Complaints about the out of pocket costs is almost meaningless. People that make these complaints will buy things which they have been advised not to buy!

  2. Matthew Sachs says:

    Hi Richard,
    I agree with your comment completely. A government sponsored program that involves business and academia is highly leveraged, so they can get a lot of value for very little investment.

  3. Gary says:

    Hi Matt. I like the idea of public dollars subsidizing a public good like reducing climate change. But I’m a bit concerned about cars. They are made of plastics and other petrochemicals, they drive on asphalt (an oil by-product) they require huge tax-funded infrastructure investments, and roads take up a lot of valuable space. I suspect and hope the electric car will be a transition to something smarter!

  4. Matthew Sachs says:

    It’s an interesting dilemma. Electric cars are certainly a necessary improvement, but they shouldn’t be seen as a long-term alternative to re-designing our cities to be more walkable and transit friendly. As a pragmatist, I would certainly advocate strongly for electric vehicles, because it will be easier to change technologies than change behaviours.

  5. Gary Martin says:

    how about changing prices so they actually reflect costs, including the full infrastructure and environmental costs? Isn’t pricing the quickest way to change behavior?!


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Matthew Sachs


  • General Manager of Urbandale Construction since May 2008
  • Vice-Chair R-2000 Renewal Committee
  • Member of Energy Star Technical Advisory Committee
  • Greater Ottawa Homebuilders Green Committee
  • Recipient of Canadian Homebuilder’s Association 2009 R-2000 Builder of the Year Award
  • Participant in Natural Resources Canada’s Technology Roadmap for Sustainable Housing
  • Energy Consultant with Marbek Resource Consultants (Feb 2002 – May 2006)


Ottawa's Quality Homebuilder for 30 Years. Building R-2000 and Energy Star Homes in Kanata Lakes, Riverside South, & Bridlewood in Ottawa, and in eQuinelle in Kemptville. For more information on Urbandale Construction, please visit