The Alliance to Save Energy (ASE) is hoping that Congress will approve several proposals promoting energy efficiency before adjournment in January. Although it is an election year and lawmakers are facing multiple priorities, the advocacy group believes that bipartisan support for several of these measures provides a realistic shot at passage. Among the issues undergoing congressional consideration are the recently introduced Smart Energy bill (H.R. 4017), increased appropriations for various energy-efficiency programs (Construction Advisor Today, Feb. 17, 2012, “Obama Requests Funding Increases for Four Key Federal Efforts to Reduce Energy Use in Buildings”), and S. 1914, which would provide a new tax credit for home efficiency upgrades.
ASE argued that H.R. 4017 would reduce barriers for government, businesses, and consumers seeking to adopt off-the-shelf energy-efficiency technologies. The group stated that this bill, which Reps. Charles Bass (R-N.H.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah) introduced Feb. 15, would save money by doing the following: boosting private-sector investments in building efficiency upgrades through expansions of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Loan Guarantee Program; expanding the use of energy savings performance contracts by federal agencies; requiring the federal government to adopt energy-saving techniques for computers and implement better building standards and smart-metering technology; and helping manufacturers reduce energy use and become more competitive by establishing collaborative research partnerships within DOE to promote research and commercialization of innovative manufacturing processes.
“While today’s economic and political challenges make it increasingly difficult to advance national energy policies, bills like the Bass-Matheson legislation, which stop energy waste, can bridge the partisan divide to create jobs, save businesses and consumers money, and increase the productivity of our economy,” ASE President Kateri Callahan said.
In a phone interview with Green Building Insider, ASE Policy Director Lowell Ungar provided the following additional comments about H.R. 4017 and the potential fate of other legislation the organization hopes will be passed into law:
GBI: What is your organization's reaction to proposed increases for the Building Technologies Program, Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP), Weatherization Intergovernmental Activities program, and Facilities and Infrastructure program?
Ungar: Overall, we are certainly pleased at the proposed funding for energy efficiency in the budget [request]. The president has recognized the value of energy efficiency … for helping consumers and economic development by proposing to increase investments across the board. In buildings, that will save consumers money....
For building technologies, [President Obama] proposed about a 40 percent increase. Those programs have often really been the most effective of all the energy-efficiency programs at the [U.S.] Department of Energy. They’ve made major improvements in a whole range of technologies, from lighting to refrigerators to heating and cooling systems in the past as well as building energy codes and appliance standards that have helped make energy efficiency common throughout the economy and have saved consumers billions and billions of dollars. So that is an investment that will pay over many times.
GBI: Is the 40 percent increase about what you expected? Are you pleasantly surprised?
Ungar: We knew the administration was committed to energy efficiency. They have proposed increases in the past, so I think it was consistent with the importance that they’ve placed on improving the green-energy economy.
[FEMP] is relatively similar to recent budgets. It’s an important program. It saves the federal government money and saves taxpayers money. There’s not much change there.
Weatherization is a case where the funding last year was slashed to really a fraction of what it had been before. The administration is proposing to increase that significantly but not back to the historical levels, so that’s a concern. That’s a program which has had a lot of funding from the Recovery Act, but that funding is being spent out and won’t be available next year.
I don’t have any comments on Facilities and Infrastructure.
GBI: What other building energy programs in the budget request are you tracking, and what are your thoughts about those proposed funding levels?
Ungar: For other building energy programs, [we are also tracking] State Energy Programs, which does a lot of work on buildings. It helps the states with their activities. It’s at roughly historical levels. [There also is] ARPA-E [Advanced Research Project Agency for Energy, which is] more targeted research, some of which is aimed at buildings. There’s continued funding [for that program]. ARPA-E is part of DOE and is aimed at targeted high-risk-but-high-impact programs, not for basic research and not for run-of-the-mill improvements but something in between. So there is continued funding [for this] important government function.
The other one is outside of DOE, and that is the Energy Star program, which is mostly at [the U.S.] EPA [Environmental Protection Agency]. It’s a very important program in helping consumers buy efficient appliances as well as efficient homes and commercial buildings, and there’s a small increase proposed for Energy Star. It’s a very effective program in terms of really getting efficiency measures out [in] common market use. It’s a critical element of the national strategy.
GBI: What, if anything, will your organization be doing to advocate maximum FY’13 appropriations for these programs? Initiate a grass-roots campaign for contacting members of Congress?
Ungar: Well, we are very active in supporting appropriations, and so I expect that we will continue to try and educate members of Congress and their staffs about the importance of energy-efficiency programs. There’s opportunity to submit testimony. We would likely do that, and especially we try to encourage businesses to let members of Congress and other policymakers know how important energy efficiency is to business and economic growth in this country.
GBI: Realistically, how close do you believe actual FY’13 appropriations will resemble what Obama proposed for these programs?
Ungar: Well, Congress and the administration, of course, are independent branches of government, and Congress always takes their own look. I certainly don’t expect the president’s budget [request] to be enacted [at proposed levels] by Congress [in any area], including energy efficiency, … so we will have to see. I think [the budget request] provides a very strong starting point. Last year, the administration proposed increases. There was, of course, a very difficult environment in which there was a lot of pressure to cut appropriations in general. In the end, when a lot of agencies were really being cut, most of the energy-efficiency programs did okay; they had small increases. But what will happen this year remains to be seen.
GBI: Which energy-efficiency initiatives should be undertaken by the federal government but aren’t?
Ungar: We don’t have anything that I would want to highlight at this time. There certainly are programs where we think there should be more emphasis, but there’s nothing right now that I’d want to propose for new programs.
GBI: What other legislation relating to building energy efficiency are you tracking, and how likely is it that any of these measures will be passed into law this year?
Ungar: There are a number of other bills of interest. One that we’ve been working on a lot is a bill on the Senate side, commonly referred to as “Shaheen-Portman” [Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who introduced the measure]. The number for that [bill] is S. 1000, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness [bill]. It moved through the [Senate] Energy and Natural Resources Committee by an 18-3 vote, so [it was] a strong, bipartisan vote. It includes a number of efficiency provisions on building efficiency, building energy codes, and loan guarantees. [There also are] a number of provisions on industrial efficiency, including a revolving loan program and some provisions on federal energy management, so that’s one we’re especially focused on.
There also are a number of consensus appliance standards. These are appliance standards, which is of course a DOE program, but in many cases, efficiency advocates, including [ASE], have come together with manufacturers and agreed on what the levels of the appliance standards should be, so this is a case where we’ve been able to find resolutions that we think make sense for energy efficiency and make sense in terms of manufacturers and sales for the products. And so there are some of those that are proposed as well. It was originally in Shaheen-Portman and another bill, and the other bill also was passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. It is known as INCAAA [the Implementation of National Consensus Appliance Agreements Act, S. 398, introduced by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.].
The new bill, [H.R. 4017, includes] a number of energy-efficiency provisions. It includes some of the same provisions that are in the Shaheen-Portman bill and some different provisions. There’s some overlap, but they didn’t take all of the provisions from Shaheen-Portman, and they introduced some provisions of their own. But it means there is now a bipartisan energy-efficiency bill introduced on the House side as well, and so we certainly hope that will move forward.
Then there are some other bills that are very important for energy efficiency. There’s one called the SAVE [Sensible Accounting to Value Energy bill, S. 1737, introduced by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.)], which would reform mortgage underwriting to consider the efficiency and energy use of homes because that affects home-ownership costs.
There is one on a new tax credit for home efficiency upgrades by Sens. [Olympia] Snowe (R-Maine) and Bingaman. [Their Cut Energy Bills at Home bill, S. 1914, would provide a 30 percent tax credit for Americans to reduce energy consumption and costs by making their homes more energy efficient.]
There’s a bill on the House side regarding PACE [the PACE Assessment Protection bill, H.R. 2599, which would require the director of the Federal Housing Agency to direct the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) to issue guidance providing that the levy of a property assessed clean energy -- PACE -- assessment and the creation of a PACE lien do not constitute a default on any loan secured by one of its uniform instruments and do not trigger the exercise of remedies regarding any provision of the instrument if the PACE assessment and the PACE lien meet specified requirements.]....
GBI: What would you say to the argument that there may be bipartisan support on a lot of these measures, but being that it’s halfway through February in an election year, it might be too late? Aside from appropriation bills, how likely will any of these bills get passed this year?
Ungar: [Getting] any legislation [passed through] Congress is very difficult right now. It is certainly a challenging environment. That said, I think there is a lot of bipartisan support for efficiency. It’s not even clear that appropriation bills will pass. There may do a continuing resolution as they did a couple of years ago. The other one that people talk most about is on tax incentives. A number of incentives for energy efficiency expired at the end of last year along with a number of incentives for other things as well, and there certainly has been discussion about trying to extend some of those tax incentives. Beyond that, I think leadership has shown some interest in energy efficiency, and … if there’s anything in the energy realm where the parties can come together, I think this is it. An 18-3 vote in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee [on S. 1000] I think is indicative. Will it happen? I think it’s hard to say. There’s lots of other issues that get involved, and it can also depend on outside factors, too. If gasoline prices spike in the summer, as they sometimes do, I think that will give a lot of motivation to Congress to try to address energy costs, and energy efficiency [could become a major part of that debate].