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 # 679  

August 2017





Al Gore's Inconvenient Reality:
The Former Vice President's Home Energy Use Surges up to 34 Times the National Average Despite Costly Green Renovations

by Drew Johnson

 

Introduction

In February 2007, the day after his panicky global warming film "An Inconvenient Truth" won an Academy Award for best documentary, a shocking report based on public records revealed that Al Gore's Nashville home consumed 20 times more electricity than the average American household.1

Facing scrutiny for his extreme electricity consumption, the former vice president pledged to renovate his home to become greener and more energy-efficient. The extensive and expensive overhaul of Gore's house included installing solar panels and geothermal heating.2

In order to determine the effectiveness of the environmentally-friendly remodel and learn whether the self-appointed spokesman of the environmental movement has amended his energy-devouring ways, the National Center for Public Policy Research obtained Gore's electricity usage information through public records requests and conversations with the Nashville Electric Service (NES).

In powering his home, Gore still greatly outpaces most Americans in energy consumption. The findings were shocking:

• The past year, Gore's home energy use averaged 19,241 kilowatt hours (kWh) every month, compared to the U.S. household average of 901 kWh per month.3,4
• Gore guzzles more electricity in one year than the average American family uses in 21 years.5
• In September of 2016, Gore's home consumed 30,993 kWh in just one month – as much energy as a typical American family burns in 34 months.
• During the last 12 months, Gore devoured 66,159 kWh of electricity just heating his pool. That is enough energy to power six average U.S. households for a year.
• From August 2016 through July 2017, Gore spent almost $22,000 on electricity bills.6
• Gore paid an estimated $60,000 to install 33 solar panels. Those solar panels produce an average of 1,092 kWh per month, only 5.7% of Gore's typical monthly energy consumption.

No matter how the numbers are viewed, Al Gore uses vastly more electricity at his home than the average American – a particularly inconvenient truth given his hypocritical calls for all Americans to reduce their home energy use.

 

The Data

All information included in this report was acquired through open records requests and phone calls to NES, the public electric utility for the Gore property and much of the Nashville area.

The records supplied by NES provide thorough information about Gore's home energy consumption – including kWh consumed, the amount of energy produced by solar panels on the property, money donated to the Green Power Switch program and the billing charges associated with the property's electricity usage.

 

The Home

Al Gore resides in a 10,070-square-foot Colonial-style home in the posh Belle Meade section of Nashville, the eighth-wealthiest neighborhood in America according to the U.S. Census Bureau.7

The home, which was built in 1915, contains 20 rooms – including five bedrooms, eight full bathrooms and two half-baths. Gore purchased the property, including the home and the surrounding 2.09 acre lot, in 2002 for $2.3 million.8

In 2010, Gore announced that he and wife Tipper were divorcing after 40 years of marriage.9 According to media speculation, Tipper likely lives in the $8.9 million California home the couple purchased weeks before the separation.10 The Gores have four grown children who no longer live at home. That leaves the former vice president as presumably the only occupant of the home, making his energy consumption even more staggering.

Gore also owns at least two other homes, a pied-à-terre in San Francisco's St. Regis Residence Club and a farm house in Carthage, Tennessee.11

 

Home Energy Consumption

The average annual electricity consumption for a residential utility customer in America is 10,812 kWh, or 901 kWh per month, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.12 In the past 12 months, Gore's home burned through a total of 163,830 kWh. Heating the home's pool consumed another 66,159 kWh. An entry gate used an additional 900 kWh. This comes to a total of 230,889 kWh consumed at the Gore estate in a year.

That 19,241 kWh average monthly electricity usage is 21.3 times more energy than a typical American household consumes in a month.

Gore's electricity consumption is unfriendly to both the environment and his wallet. The former vice president's electric bill averaged $1,800 a month over the past year, not including $432 he paid each month for donations to the Green Power Switch program. Last September alone, Gore spent more than $3,000 on electricity. From August 2016 through July 2017, Gore paid nearly $22,000 for the energy he consumed in his Belle Meade home.

In 2007, when Gore was exposed by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research for his hypocritical home energy use, the house guzzled over 220,000 kWh of electricity a year.13 That outrageous amount has increased by more than 10,000 kWh per year even though Gore completed a green overhaul on his home, including adding solar panels to offset electricity consumption by the property.

 

The Size Argument

According to property assessment data, Gore's home is 10,070 square feet.14 Many Gore defenders point to the large size of his residence as an explanation for his massive energy consumption.

The facts, however, do not bear this argument out.

According to Energy Vanguard, a company devoted to making homes more energy efficient, an "efficient" home uses between 5-10 kWh of electricity per square foot each year.15 A house that consumes 15 kWh per square foot or more of electricity per year is categorized as "bad" due to its inefficiency and excessive electricity consumption. Homes that expend more than 20 kWh of electricity per square foot each year are labeled "energy hogs," which is Energy Vanguard's worst rating.

Gore's home consumed 22.9 kWh per square foot in the past 12 months, more than quadrupling the electricity consumption of homes that are considered energy efficient, regardless of size. Based on its kWh per square foot measure, the house would easily earn an "energy hog" rating.

Even by apples-to-apples comparison, Gore's home is extraordinarily energy inefficient and consumes an astonishing amount of electricity.

 

Green Upgrades

After facing criticism for his colossal consumption of electricity at his Nashville home in 2007, Gore pledged to make the property more environmentally friendly.

The extensive and expensive overhaul of Gore's house included upgrading the home's windows and ductwork, updating the insulation and putting in a driveway rainwater collection system for irrigation and water management.16 Additionally, Gore installed a geothermal heating system.17 Gore also went to the trouble of replacing his incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs.18

Most famously, the Nobel laureate installed 33 solar panels in an attempt to offset a portion of his steep energy usage.19 According to 2011 data from the Nashville Electric Service, Gore's solar panels produce an average of 1,092 kWh of electricity per month. Unfortunately for the former vice president, his solar panels produce only 5.7% of the energy his home consumes.

Gore receives a credit of 12 cents per kWh of the solar energy he produces through NES' "Generation Partners" program.20 NES records indicate Gore began receiving credits for producing solar power from his roof-mounted solar panels in March 2009.

During the course of a year, however, Gore's massive expanse of solar panels only produces enough electricity to offset his home energy use for less than 21 days.

 

The Cost of Going Green

While the impact of the solar panels was negligible in terms of reducing Gore's electric bill, the expense of installing them took a serious toll on his wallet.

Gore's 33 solar panels appear to be 280-watt models that retailed for $675 at the time of installation.21 That means the former vice president spent an estimated $22,275 on the panels alone.

At the time of the greening of Gore's home, the installation of solar panels – including labor and the electronic components necessary to convert solar energy into a current that can be fed into the commercial electric grid – cost approximately $3 to $5 per watt.22 Installing 9,240 watts of solar panels at an average labor and hardware cost of $4 per watt, Gore spent another $36,960 in estimated installation charges.

In total, a conservative estimate of Gore's total cost to purchase and install 33 rooftop solar panels is about $60,000.

Gore's costly home overhaul did not end with solar panels. He also replaced his home's old windows with upscale energy-efficient versions at great expense.

According to federal Energy Star estimates, the "cost of complete window replacement for the average home is $7,500-$10,000." Replacing windows in an average-sized American home of 1,866 square feet at a cost of $8,750 – the mid-range Energy Star estimate – equals $4.69 per square foot.23 That per-square-foot cost estimate equates to $47,220 for Gore's 10,070 square foot mansion.

Since Gore's home features approximately 90 windows, ranging from typical 36" x 72"-sized windows to a number of larger and more unusually-shaped windows, and the former vice president likely purchased high-end windows in keeping with the home's grand atmosphere, his window replacement bill likely approached or exceeded six figures.

In addition to Gore's pricey window upgrades, he insulated his home with Air Krete spray foam insulation in the outer walls.24 At a typical cost of $2 per square foot installed, a very rough estimate of the cost to insulate the house with Air Krete exceeds $20,000.25

Gore's geothermal heating system might have been the single greatest expense of all. According to Energy Environmental Corporation, a company that provides renewable energy systems, the installation of a home geothermal system costs about $9 per square foot it is intended to heat – or an estimated $90,630 for Gore's house.26

Green updates to the house also included installing a rainwater collection system, in which a portion of the existing driveway was replaced with perforated bricks that allow rainwater to seep into a large underground tank and be used to provide water for the lawn's sprinkler system.27 A high-quality pump and storage system cost approximately $10,000 in 2007, when Gore renovated his property.28

Another cost associated with driveway rainwater harvesting is the repaving of the driveway with stones, tiles or bricks that allow rainwater to seep into the collection system. Rainwater-permeable blocks like the ones Gore installed commonly cost $2.50 per square foot.29 The installation costs for such a project typically adds a minimum of $10 per square foot to the bottom line.30

Driveways that are 12 feet in width and 40 feet in length are common in many subdivisions across the country. Resurfacing a driveway of that size with the blocks needed for a driveway rainwater collection system would conservatively cost $6,000.

But Gore's driveway is far from typical. According to estimates from available aerial images of the home, the driveway is approximately 300 feet long and 15 feet wide.31 The price tag for covering Gore's entire driveway surface with blocks appropriate for his rainwater harvesting system is an estimated $55,000.

Upon completion of the energy-efficient remodeling effort, Gore spokeswoman Kalee Kreider declined to say exactly how much was spent on the green renovations. She did admit that the upgrades "might be logistically or financially out of reach for many Americans."32

Kreider's remarks, it turns out, were more than a bit of an understatement.

Excluding the costs associated with the ductwork replacement project, an extremely conservative estimate of Gore's renovation costs ends up well over $250,000. A more reasonable assessment of the price Gore paid for increasing his home's energy efficiency is closer to half a million dollars.

All the money Gore spent to make his home more energy efficient made very little impact on his actual energy consumption. After paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to lower his electricity consumption, the house still burns through 20 times more electricity than the average American home.

 

Green Power Switch

NES encourages customers to pay a surcharge to help the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) – the source of NES's power – incorporate electricity produced by renewable energy sources into its power grid through a program called "Green Power Switch."

This scheme – in essence, a donation to assist the TVA's solar, wind and methane power efforts – allows customers to purchase $4 "blocks" of energy.33 Each block represents 150 kWh of renewable electricity that the customer essentially "adopts" and helps to fund with the $4 donation to the program.34 The amount of each block purchased is added to the final cost of a customer's electric bill each month.

The Green Power Switch program does not alter the amount of electricity or the number of kWh a customer consumes each month in any way.

Gore funds 108 blocks of Green Power Switch energy each month, increasing his monthly electric bill by $432.35 The $432 monthly donation to help fund the development and implementation of renewable energy sources is a charitable gesture that helps the TVA, at least in a small way, add more renewable electricity into its power grid.

That $432 monthly donation is removed from bill amounts and price estimates in this report. Gore's involvement in Green Power Switch does not change the source of the electricity that he actually receives and consumes in his home.36

Of the electricity purchased from the TVA by NES, 39.8% comes from nuclear power plants, 25.8% is generated at coal–fired power plants, 21.5% is produced by burning natural gas, 9.7% is powered by hydroelectric dams and just 3.2% is from wind and solar sources.37

NES's coal-heavy mix of TVA power is the source of the electricity that is flowing into, and hastily devoured by, Gore's home.38

 

Conclusion

Upon winning the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, Gore stated, "The only way to solve this [environmental] crisis is for individuals to make changes in their own lives."39 Judging by his own home electricity consumption, Gore is failing to live up to the standards he expects of everyone else.

After the embarrassing revelations that his home wolfed down nearly 20 times more electricity than the average American household, Gore made updates in an effort to make his home more energy efficient. Even those costly measures could not prevent his home energy consumption from rising even higher.

This year, Gore's electricity consumption averages 19,241 kWh per month, or more than 21 times the typical usage in an American home. That is a considerable increase from Gore's 2007 home energy consumption of about 18,400 kWh per month, which spurred a six-figure green renovation of the house.40

Gore apologists blame the size of Gore's home – a mansion, by any measure – for his extreme electricity use. That argument does not stand up to the facts. According to standards of energy efficiency, an "efficient" home burns between five and 10 kWh of electricity per square foot each year. Gore's home annually burns nearly 23 kWh of electricity per square foot.

Other Gore supporters claim that his rooftop solar panels offset the home's energy use. That assertion is simply false. Gore's solar panels produce only 5.7% of his total energy usage. In other words, the solar panels provide less than three weeks' worth of electricity over the course of an entire year.

Finally, some assume that, since Gore donates to NES's Green Power Switch program, he receives only clean, renewable energy to his home. In truth, the energy pouring into Gore's house is the electricity that all TVA customers receive – the majority of which comes from nuclear and coal–fired power plants. Only 3% of the electricity going into Gore's home comes from a renewable source such as solar or wind power.

Al Gore has attained a near-mythical status for his frenzied efforts to propagandize global warming. At the same time, Gore has done little to prove his commitment to the cause in his own life. While Gore encourages people throughout the world to reduce their carbon footprint and make drastic changes to cut energy consumption, Gore's own home electricity use has hypocritically increased to more than 21 times the national average this past year with no sign of slowing down.


Drew Johnson
is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.


 

Footnotes:

1 Beacon Center of Tennessee. "Al Gore's Personal Energy Use His Own 'Inconvenient Truth'." February 25, 2007. https://www.beacontn.org/al-gores-personal-energy-use-is-his-own-inconvenient-truth/

2 The Associated Press. "Gore Gets Green Kudos for Home Renovation." December 13, 2007. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22248699/ns/us_news-environment/t/gore-gets-green-kudos-home-renovation/#.To4QbN4r2so

3 U.S. Energy Information Administration. "How Much Electricity Does an American Home Use?" October 18, 2016. https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=97&t=3

4 A kilowatt hour is equivalent to the amount of energy needed to produce one kilowatt (1,000 watts) of power for one hour. 

5 All billing information from 2016 and 2017 received from a series of phone calls between Drew Johnson and the Nashville Electric System and Sarah Reeves and the Nashville Electric System from July 23, 2017 – July 26, 2017.

6 Not including $5,184 in donations to the Tennessee Valley Authority's Green Power Switch program, which is also shown on Gore's NES statements.

7 Alessio, Devin and Christina Oehler. "These are the 10 Richest Towns in the US." Veranda. June 15, 2016. http://www.veranda.com/luxury-lifestyle/g1563/10-richest-towns-in-the-us/

8 Davidson County Property Assessor Office. "Property Appraisal and Assessment Data." 2011. http://www.padctnwebpro.com/WebproNashville/Default.asp?br=exp&vr=6

9 Rudin, Ken. "Al and Tipper to Split Up After 40 Years of Marriage." National Public Radio. June 1, 2010. http://www.npr.org/blogs/politicaljunkie/2010/06/01/127347449/reports-al-tipper-gore-to-split-up-after-40-years-of-marriage

10 Ibid.

11 Harris, Scott Duke. "Al Gore, 'Valley Guy' – He's Deeply and Richly Connected to Tech." The Mercury News. January 31, 2007. http://www.mercurynews.com/2007/01/31/al-gore-valley-guy-hes-deeply-and-richly-connected-to-tech/ and Alfano, Sean. "Gore Defends Mansion's Power Consumption." CBS News. February 28, 2007. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/gore-defends-mansions-power-consumption/

12 U.S. Energy Information Administration. "How Much Electricity Does an American Home Use?" October 18, 2016. https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=97&t=3

13 Beacon Center of Tennessee. "Al Gore's Personal Energy Use His Own 'Inconvenient Truth'." February 25, 2007. https://www.beacontn.org/al-gores-personal-energy-use-is-his-own-inconvenient-truth/

14 Davidson County Property Assessor Office. "Property Appraisal and Assessment Data." August 1, 2017. http://www.padctn.org/prc/property/124927/card/1

15 Bailes, Allison. "What's Your Home Energy Efficiency Number?" Energy Vanguard. March 26, 2010. http://www.energyvanguard.com/blog-building-science-HERS-BPI/bid/20376/What-s-Your-Home-Energy-Efficiency-Number

16 Schelzig, Erik. "Gore: Repairs Near Done on 'Green' Home." The Associated Press. June 8, 2007. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/08/AR2007060802084.html

17 The Associated Press. "Gore Gets Green Kudos for Home Renovation." December 13, 2007. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22248699/ns/us_news-environment/t/gore-gets-green-kudos-home-renovation/#.To4QbN4r2so

18 Ibid.

19 The Associated Press. "Gore gets OK for solar panels." April 18, 2007. http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2007/apr/18/gore-gets-ok-for-solar-panels/

20 Tennessee Valley Authority. "Green Power Providers." August 1, 2017. https://www.tva.com/Energy/Valley-Renewable-Energy/Green-Power-Providers.

21 GoGreenSolar.com. "ET Solar 280 Watt Solar Panel." 2008. http://www.gogreensolar.com/products/et-solar-280-watt-solar-panel-et-p672280

22 Devlin, Lee. "How Much does it Cost to Install Solar on an Average US House?" Solar Power Authority. January 30, 2008. http://solarpowerauthority.com/how-much-does-it-cost-to-install-solar-on-an-average-us-house/

23 Energy Star. "Residential Windows, Doors and Skylights for Consumers." 2011. http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=find_a_product.showProductGroup&pgw_code=WI & City of Minneapolis, Minnesota. "Teardowns and Infill Housing." 2006. http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/cped/docs/infill_housing_overview.pdf

24 Sustainable Sources. "Insulation." August 1, 2017. http://insulation.sustainablesources.com/

25 Ibid.

26 Energy Environmental Corporation. "Installation/Cost." 2009. http://www.energyhomes.org/renewable%20technology/geoinstallation.html

27 Oprah.com. "Al Gore's Eco-Friendly Home." 2011. http://www.oprah.com/world/Al-Gores-Eco-Friendly-Home/2#slideshow

28 Stanton Homes. "Putting away something for a rainy day? If you do it right, perhaps a rainy day can put something away for you." December 2007. http://www.stantonhomes.com/Docs/Rainwater_Collection_Systems.pdf

29 National Association of Home Builders. "Permeable Pavement." http://www.toolbase.org/Technology-Inventory/Sitework/permeable-pavement#initialcost

30 Driveway Tips LLC. "Driveway Cost." 2010. http://www.drivewaytips.com/cost.asp

31 Google Maps. "312 Lynnwood Blvd. Nashville, TN." https://www.google.com/maps/place/312+Lynnwood+Blvd,+Nashville,+TN+37205/
@36.1137466,86.8471117,66m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x886463c7527e0605:
0x3e27c81ee7e54e49!8m2!3d36.113869!4d-86.84729

32 The Associated Press. "Gore Gets Green Kudos for Home Renovation." December 13, 2007. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22248699/ns/us_news-environment/t/gore-gets-green-kudos-home-renovation/#.To4QbN4r2so

33 Nashville Electric Service. "Green Power Switch." September 19, 2011. http://www.nespower.com/gps.html

34 Ibid.

35 Nashville Electric Service. "Payment History, General: Gore, Mary E." September 19, 2011.

36 Tennessee Valley Authority. "Green Power Switch Q&A." August 1, 2017. https://www.tva.com/Energy/Valley-Renewable-Energy/Green-Power-Switch/Green-Power-Switch-Q%2BA

37 Tennessee Valley Authority. "TVA at a Glance." FY 2016. https://www.tva.com/About-TVA/TVA-at-a-Glance. Based on removing 7% "energy efficiency" from the generation portfolio to reflect only power generated.

38 Tennessee Valley Authority. "Green Power Switch Q&A." August 1, 2017. https://www.tva.com/Energy/Valley-Renewable-Energy/Green-Power-Switch/Green-Power-Switch-Q%2BA

39 The Associated Press. "Gore Gets Green Kudos for Home Renovation." December 13, 2007. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22248699/ns/us_news-environment/t/gore-gets-green-kudos-home-renovation/#.To4QbN4r2so

40 Beacon Center of Tennessee. "Al Gore's Personal Energy Use His Own 'Inconvenient Truth'." February 25, 2007. https://www.beacontn.org/al-gores-personal-energy-use-is-his-own-inconvenient-truth/

 


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