Late Action on Shaheen-Portman Energy Efficiency Bill Good News for 2015

Originally published by: ASHRAEJanuary 2, 2015

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Prior to Congress adjourning, Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) sought to pass energy efficiency one last time by championing the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act (H.R.2126). This bill would help building owners and tenants overcome the split incentives of energy efficiency upgrades, in part by creating a voluntary new “Tenant Star” program. The program would provide tenants with recognition for efficiency improvements, similar to the current ENERGY STAR program for whole buildings.

The Energy Efficiency Improvement Act would also promote energy efficiency in federal data centers by requiring federal agencies to work with experts and key stakeholders to develop strategies and best practices for the use, maintenance, and procurement of energy saving information technologies.

Additionally, the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act would improve federal building energy benchmarking by requiring federally leased space in buildings that have not received an ENERGY STAR label to be benchmarked by an online, free benchmarking program. The U.S. Department of Energy would also be required to conduct a study on the impact of state and local performance benchmarking and disclosure policies and associated building efficiency policies for commercial and multifamily buildings. This study would identify best practice policies that have resulted in the greatest improvements in building energy efficiency.

The bill also includes important provisions regarding grid-enabled water heaters, which are a priority of the rural electric cooperatives.

Notably, the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act was sponsored and led by Representatives David McKinley (R-WV) – one of the few professional engineers in Congress – and Peter Welch (D-VT). Congressman McKinley and Welch are the Co-Chairs of the High-Performance Building Congressional Caucus, which serves to as a coordination mechanism for buildings-related legislation in the House. The Caucus is supported by the High-Performance Building Congressional Caucus Coalition (HPBCCC).

H.R.2126 passed the U.S. House this past spring by an overwhelming, bipartisan margin (375 – 36).

While feedback from Capitol Hill on these efforts was very positive, ultimately passage of the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act was prevented by Senator Patrick Toomey (R-PA), who objected to the bill on behalf of one of his colleagues. Senator Toomey was unwilling to state what the objections were, despite requests from several of his Republican colleagues.

Although this might appear to be a setback, it’s not all bad news, as it created significant momentum for the introduction and passage of energy efficiency legislation in the next (114th) Congress, and there are already signs that energy efficiency may be one of the first issues addressed by Congress next year.

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