U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Rob Portman insist that it’s time to put political ideology aside for the sake of the nation, re-introducing a bill hailed by both the New Hampshire Democrat and Ohio Republican as a bipartisan roadmap to an improved national energy efficiency strategy. The bill calls for state-based commercial energy-efficiency programs that leverage private financing.

First introduced a year ago, the Shaheen-Portman Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness (ESIC) Act is designed to increase the use of energy-efficiency technologies all across the economy, while also creating jobs and making the nation more environmentally-friendly with decreased emissions. A senate committee will review the proposed legislation that will call for strengthening energy-efficiency requirements in building codes, making supply chains more efficient, requiring efficiency measures in the federal government and encouraging energy-efficiency upgrades, such as high-performance glass and window products, as recommended in the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), at industrial facilities.

“As we know, we’re still too dependent on foreign oil – that affects our national security,” Shaheen said during a recent press conference in Washington, D.C. “We’re too dependent on fossil fuels. This is an energy savings that everyone can get behind. It doesn’t matter whether you’re from the Northeast, the South or the West – we all benefit from energy efficiency. It’s a win, win, win.”

The bill, which will need to pass a Senate vote and approval from the House of Representatives before any talk of President Barack Obama signing it into law, has been tweaked since first being introduced in 2011 and failing to garner much support from the Republican-led House of Representatives. Several spending provisions have been removed, according to The Hill newspaper, including an expansion of a federal loan guarantee program for energy-efficient projects and a revolving state grant program.

The new draft instead calls for state-based commercial energy-efficiency programs that leverage private financing. Some other elements of the previous bill were included in a manufacturing efficiency bill passed in December. The provisions were more research-based, such as asking the Department of Energy to examine barriers to energy efficiency in the industrial sector and to identify best practices for advanced metering. It also called for federal facilities to track energy and water consumption.

The timing might be right this time around as Obama has cited energy efficiency as a priority in his second term, calling for the U.S. to whittle its energy consumption in half over the next two decades.

“It was a good lesson for me about how the Senate works,” Shaheen said. “The last person standing is the one who is successful.”

Shaheen and Portman were quick to note the bipartisan support for their latest effort toward that end, noting the many industry leaders, energy efficiency advocates and environmental stakeholders on hand for the Capitol Hill gathering to voice their support for the legislation.

Among other things, the re-introduced Shaheen-Portman legislation aims to strengthen building codes making new homes and buildings more efficient. It will also require the federal government — the country’s largest energy user — to adopt strategies to conserve the electricity used for computers.

A recent study by the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) estimated that products of chemistry such as window and roofing coatings, insulation, piping and lighting could help achieve a 41 percent reduction in energy use and 70 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 when combined with a shift to lower carbon fuels. The increased industrial energy efficiency is expected to help make American manufacturers more competitive with their foreign counterparts.

Portman said he and Shaheen have identified a plan to offset the cost of the legislation, but hope to finalize it in committee. Meanwhile, staffers for both lawmakers have already begun engaging talks with House Energy and Commerce Committee staff to gauge their interest in taking up the legislation. House Republicans have said they see energy efficiency as a key area of compromise with the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“At a time when bipartisanship is rare in Washington, D.C., this is an opportunity for us to, yes, use less energy,” Portman said, “but also create jobs, improve the environment and come together in a non-partisan way across the board.”

The updated legislation is again leaning on Congressional support for energy efficiency legislation by embracing a bipartisan approach that spurs the use of energy efficiency technologies in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors of our economy. A study

by experts at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy found that initial version of ESIC would have saved consumers $4 billion by 2020 and helped

businesses add 80,000 jobs to the economy.

Several industry groups have come out in support of the legislation.

Among these, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) joined with more than 350 different associations and companies to urge the government to maintain energy conservation requirements currently in place for federal buildings.

AIA officials say the legislation “would promote greater use of energy efficiency technology in commercial and residential buildings and by manufacturers.” They also fear, however, that during the review of the bill requirements for federal buildings could be weakened, according to a letter sent to Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R –Alaska).

“Weakening or repealing federal building energy policies will dramatically harm the federal government’s ability to design and build facilities that use less energy, save taxpayers money, and protect the environment,” reads the letter. “Therefore, we urge you to oppose efforts to weaken the energy consumption and GHG emission requirements of EISA Sec. 433(a) and other important energy-saving policies.”

Ben Gann, director of legislative affairs and grassroots activities for the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA), points out that a previous version of the legislation would have established a “zero-net-energy” building performance goal by 2030. However, after negotiations with Sens. Shaheen and Portman that language was removed and no longer includes provisions to create a de facto federal energy code administered by DOE.

“Any increase in efficiency standards for new building codes would be completely voluntary,” says Gann. “The [DOE] is still allowed to offer building efficiency targets, as part of the International Energy Efficiency Code (IECC) and ASHRAE Standard 90.1, but Shaheen-Portman requires DOE to establish all targets and determinations related to national model codes through public notice and comment rulemaking procedures.

He adds, “The bill does require DOE to make publicly available the analysis and methodology it uses to calculate energy savings as IECC/ASHRAE codes and standards are revised from one version to the next, and incorporate economic considerations, including return on investment and small business impact review analysis.”

Additionally, Gann points out that the legislation could provide funding to “those states that achieve and document full compliance with both the commercial and residential building energy codes.”

John Hollis is the incoming editor of the USGNN daily news service, the sister site of DWM.

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