Surprise! House Passes Building Energy Efficiency Bill

In a surprise move, the US House passed an important energy efficiency bill, the first bipartisan bill on energy policy since 2007 – the Better Buildings Act of 2014.

Sponsored by Reps. David McKinley (R-WVA) and Peter Welch (D-VT), it establishes voluntary certification for commercial leased spaces, "Tenant Star"; requires the federal government to set efficiency targets for its data centers; and leased buildings by the federal government must disclose energy consumption.

Tenant Star certifies and recognizes tenants that operate energy efficient leased spaces. Widely endorsed by the Real Estate Roundtable and efficiency advocates, it is based on the High Performance Tenant Demonstration Project by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Estimates are it will cut utility bills by about $2 billion dollars by 2030, according to NRDC. 

As you can imagine, leased spaces are the most overlooked when it comes to efficiency because building owners don’t typically utility bills. They account for about half of commercial building energy use.

"Tenant Star will encourage cooperation between commercial tenants and landlords to design and construct high-performance leased spaces, and make smart operational decisions to lower energy use by investing in measures that will pay for themselves through energy savings. It will go a long way to help ensure that US buildings – and the separate spaces leased within them – are at the vanguard of technology and energy conservation.  The program will allow building owners to attract financiers, investors, and tenants in the increasingly competitive national and global markets for real estate," says Jeff DeBoer, CEO of Real Estate Roundtable.

Has to Pass The Senate

The House bill will hopefully be reconciled with the widely lauded Senate Bill re-introduced last week. The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (S 2024) sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) has widespread support but was pulled last year when Republican amendments poisoned it (repealing Obamacare).

Known as the Shaheen-Portman bill, the slightly revised version would create more than 190,000 jobs and save $16 billion a year in energy costs. It would avoid emissions equivalent to taking 22 million cars off the road.

The new version includes Tenant Star and the SAVE Act, which would finally require preferential mortgage rates for federally backed residential loans for houses that are more energy efficient, which leads to lower energy expenses.

The bill: 

* Directs the Department of Energy to support development of National Model Building Energy Codes. DOE would establish goals of zero-net-energy for new residential and commercial buildings by 2030, to be achieved through a variety of policies.

* Establishes training centers to build an employment skillbase in efficient technologies. DOE would establish Building Training and Assessment Centers at institutions of higher learning. 

* Directs the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make zero-interest loans to rural public utilities and electric cooperatives to support low-interest energy efficiency loans for customers. 

* Update efficiency standards on outdoor lighting, residential heating and cooling systems, residential appliances, and other appliance products based on agreements between manufacturers and efficiency advocates. 

* Require federal agencies to use advanced tools that save  energy, such as computer hardware, energy efficiency software, and power management tools.

Of course, while the House passed energy efficiency legislation that doesn’t mean they turned into environmentalists. Today they passed the Polluter Protection Act, which blocks EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations for power plants.

More details on the Shaheen-Portman bill are here:

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