On Tuesday, less than 24 hours after President Carter's first grim energy speech, the Asbestos Covering and Roofing Co. in Beltsville got 30 telephone calls from homeowners here who said they wanted more insulation installed in their homes.
Asbestos Covering and Roofing's owners had seen nothing to match the surge of inquiries in the firm's 70-year history. "The phone was jumping off the hook," said Walter Shipe, its vice president. Throughout the week, the calls continued.
All across the Washington area, Carter's warnings and proposals for dealing with America's energy problems have begun to alter the attitudes and habits of homeowners, motorists, conservationists and business owners.
Home insulation is in demand. Further increases in costs for home heating and electricity are being predicted. Gas station operators are angry and skeptical of Carter's proposals.
Solar energy advocates and solar equipment dealers are pleased at prospects of a possible sales boost for solar heating devices. Auto dealers and purchasers appear confused and troubled. In Western Maryland and Southwest Virginia, some government officials and businessmen see signs of a brighter future for the coal industry.
Yet despite these initial signs and forecasts, widespread uncertainty over the meaning of Carter's messages and how Congress woudl respond to them left most trends unpredictable. Some businessmen said their customers were adopting "wait-and-see" attitudes. Some local residents said they probably would have acted no differently last week had Carter not delivered his energy speeches at all.
Yet despite these initial signs and forecasts, widespread uncertainty over the meaning of Carter's messages and how Congress would respond to them left most trends unpredictable. Some businessmen said their customers were adopting "wait-and-see" attitudes. Some local residents said they probably would have acted no differently last week had Carter not delivered his energy speeches at all.
The Whetstones, a Lanham family, were among those who phoned the Asbestos Covering and Roofing Co. last week for an estimate on putting additional insulation in. They had decided some time earlier that they needed more insulation to help cut their electricity bills, Carolyn Whetstone said in an interview, but they had just put it off.
While it was the rising cost of electricity rather than Carter's energy speech that prompted their phone call, Mrs. Whetstone added, "Of course, with his message coming out about a rebate, that makes it even better." Carter has proposed a tax credit of 25 per cent on the first $800 and 15 per cent on the next $1,400 that homeowners spend on insulation.
Whether and how soon Congress might put such a tax credit into effect is unclear.
Like many insulation dealers, Asbestos Covering and Roofing installs more fiberglass than other insulating materials. Though the firm has kept its original name, it no longer installs asbestos insulation at all because asbestos is regarded as a health hazard. Yet fibreglass raises a possible problem of its own. Fiberglass was in short supply here last winter, and some local dealers are forecasting renewed shortages next fall.
Spokesmen for the two biggest glass fiber insulation manufacturers - the Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp. and the Johns-Mansville Corp. - said that supplies appeared adequate last week, but did not rule out temporary or "spot" shortages later this year.
Carter's proposed tax credit for installing insulation also raised other questions. Arthur W. Johnson, energy conservation director for the NAHB Research Foundation, a subsidiary of the National Association of Home Builders, said last week that he fears many homeowners may postpone putting in insulation until Congress acts on the tax credit proposal, and then some insulation dealers, he added, may boost prices of offset the homeowners' tax break. "I'm just pessimistic about it," he said.
Promotional gimicks were on the rise. Yesterday, Alfred Bigelow, an insulation consultant, was having more insulation installed in the attic of his own home at 1819 37th St. NW, and he invited neighbors and passers-by in to watch. His aim, he said, was partly to help drum up more customers for his company and a cellulose insulating material it installs.
Local utilities officials forecast what they described as relatively small increases in their customers' heating and electricity bills as a result of Carter's proposals. They said they have insufficient data to calculate precisely how much their costs will rise.
A Potomac Electric Power Co. spokesman said that Carter's proposals could increase the costs of oil Pepco burns in 30 per cent of its generating system, mainly by eliminating a 70 cents-a-barrel reduction Pepco now gets. Such a cost rise would cause a modest increase in customer's bills, he said.
A Washington Gas Light Co. spokesman said that Carter's plan for a uniform natural gas price of $1.75 per 1,000 cubic feet would lead to increases in its customers' bills. But the price rises, the spokesman said, would be "relatively small" because gas costs account for only about 20 per cent of the amount consumers pay while transportation and overhead costs comprise 80 per cent.
A Virginia Electric and Power Co. spokesman said the company did not know how Carter's proposals would affect its prices, though he acknowledged that increased oil costs and a proposed requirement for a shift to coal-burning generators might have some impact.
Under Carter's proposals, home heating oil, which now costs 46 to 47 cents a gallon in the Washington area, would apparently rise by about 13 cents a gallon by 1980 and by an additional 23 cents within the next five years.
Walter J. Meighan, vice president for sales of Griffith-Consumers Co., the major supplier of home heating oil in Washington, did not return telephone calls from The Washington Post. Jim Windsor, executive vice president of the Oil Heat Association of Greater Washington, predicted a congressional battle over the issue and said, "I don't see any big (price) jump for a few years."
Doubts, anger and some cautious hopes were voiced by auto dealers and gas station operators here last week as a result of Carter's plans for a tax on "gas guzzlers," rebates for fuel-efficient autos and higher gasoline prices. Some motorists said they were thinking of switching to smaller cars though such a trend has yet to emerge.
"We don't consider ourselves a gas guzzler," Jack Schue, sales manager of Lindsay Cadillac Co. in Alexandria, contended. Cadillac, he argued, have been unfairly criticized. He contended that their fuel efficiency exceeds that of many station wagons, recreation vehicles and some other cars. Besides, Schue said, most Cadillac buyers would not be deterred by a higher tax, although they are already grumbling about it. "Hell, they pay that much in price increases every year," he said.
Carter's message appeared to have spread some gloom among recreation vehicle dealers and buyers, who are worried because recreation vehicles often get only about 7 miles to a gallon of gas. Arthur Sessler, who handles Winnebagos and other recreation vehicles at Koons Pontiac and Olds in Manassas, said sales were off sharply last week. One couple who picked up a Winnebago, Sessler noted, told him they were already having second thoughts about it.
Even among small car dealers, Carter's message did not cause unmixed delight. Christopher Zourdos, general manager of Courtesy AMC in Rockville, said he had seen no surge in his American Motors business, though he hopes Carter's message will eventually bring him more buyers. But he is also worried, Zourdos said, that prospective purchasers may hesitate if Congress dawdles on Carter's proposed fuel-efficency rebate.
Gas station operators and the trade associations that represent them complained sharply about Carter's proposals. Trade association heads in the District, Maryland and Virginia predicted that higher gasoline costs would fail to dampen comsumption, though they said some service station operators could be caught in a financial crunch. One local Exxon dealer, who asked not to be indentified, said he fears he will be squeezed between Exxon's pressure to boost gas sales and Carter's effort to curb consumption.
Solar energy advocates and dealers were encouraged by Carter's proposal for a tax credit of up to $2,000 on purchases of solar energy equipment. They predicted increased sales of solar water heating equipment and possibly also of more costly solar home heating systems.
"It's a step forward because the intention is there," George Szego, president of InterTechnology/Solar Corp., a Warrenton, Va., designer and manufacturer of solar collectors and other equipment, said last week. But he added, "We've got a situation here where Carter proposes. Congress disposes." He said homeowners will likely postpone investments in solar equipment until they are assured of a tax credit for it.
Carter's energy plans appeared to promise a boost for the job-producing coal industries of Western Maryland and Southwest Virginia."By and large, we are very high on the (Carter) administration's policies toward coal," Thomas Jones, director of Western Maryland's Garrett County Economic Development, said last week.
A coal boom is already in prospect in Garrett County and Carter's stress on more coal production, Jones said, will help stimulate further coal mine development there. In the next five years, coal ventures now being planned are expected to create 1,500 to 1,800 new mining jobs in Garrett County. "That's a sizable impact," Jones said, noting that Garrett County's entire labor force amounts to 8,800 workers.
The Appalachian mining towns of Southwest Virginia have already been through a coal boom in recent years, though some of its glitter has now worn off. What effect Carter's stress on coal production will have in this once-impoverished region remains uncertain. James A. Brown Jr., president of Paramount Mining Corp. in Wise, Va., said last week that in the long run Carter's plans may at least help Southwest Virginia's mines maintain their current levels of production.