WASHINGTON, June 16, 2015 -- Addressing the U.S. Energy Association/Johnson Controls Energy Efficiency Forum last week, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado said his role “as a Republican, as a conservative” is to “get people to understand that we shouldn’t be afraid of energy efficiency.”
Showcasing bipartisan support for energy efficiency, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., joined Gardner at the Washington, D.C., forum where both received the forum’s Energy Leadership Award. “Energy efficiency is common sense public policy,” Welch said. “Simply put, it’s a no brainer – new jobs, lower bills and cleaner environment. We have made real progress in finding common ground in Congress on this issue but there is much more we can do.”
Republicans and Democrats may remain sharply divided over the GOP determination to shrink the federal government. But that divide tends to disappear when it comes to the joint goal of shrinking the federal government’s energy bill through energy efficiency legislation.
One sign of progress came on April 30 when President Obama signed the bipartisan Energy Efficiency Improvement Act into law. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who sponsored the measure along with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said their bill “has garnered widespread support because of a simple fact – it is good for the economy and good for the environment.” Shaheen commented that because the bill is designed to create jobs and save money while reducing pollution, “it was never a hard sell. The tough part was convincing Washington to not play politics with a good idea.” Both say the next step is to pass far more extensive efficiency legislation.
In a House energy efficiency hearing April 30, Welch explained that “energy efficiency is literally the lowest cost electricity resource for utilities.” From 2008 to 2012, he pointed out, new efficiency improvements from utility programs and appliance standards have avoided the need for more than 275 power plants.
In the same hearing, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said energy efficiency legislation provides “a real opportunity to show that Washington, D.C., works sometimes” despite the news media’s focus on “when we fight.” Kinzinger praised Welch along with Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., as examples of Democrats working hard to craft bipartisan bills such as the Energy Efficient Government Technology Act and the Thermal Insulation Efficiency Improvement Act.
The Senate Energy Committee completed hearings last week on 114 proposed bills vying for inclusion in the hoped-for first comprehensive energy legislation since 2007. The contenders include 22 efficiency bills such as the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act introduced by Portman and co-sponsored by Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Cantwell’s Smart Building Acceleration Act.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee has held parallel hearings on its draft Architecture of Abundance legislation championed by Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich. The draft includes a 54-page Energy Efficiency title aimed at creating jobs while slashing energy bills.
In the push to write new energy legislation, there’s sharp disagreement over the Republicans’ focus on “our new-found energy abundance” and their call to increase oil and gas drilling by opening up far more Gulf, East Coast and Alaskan offshore waters to drilling. In contrast, except for coal-state members such as Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Democrats tend to focus on climate change and the urgent need to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.
The partisan divide carries over into energy efficiency proposals. One example arises from the fact that the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) signed into law by President George W. Bush mandated the elimination of “fossil fuel-generated energy consumption” in all federal buildings by 2030.
Republican proposals to update EISA include removing the 2030 ban on fossil fuel use in federal buildings, to allow using the nation’s newly abundant supplies of natural gas. Welch says he wants to continue to “move our government buildings away from fossil fuel usage” while somehow accommodating GOP concerns about a total ban.
There are similar differences over new gas furnace efficiency regulations and over building codes. The Republican view is that new regulations and codes need to account for real-world affordability and that the federal Department of Energy (DOE) should be prohibited from “picking winners and losers.” The Democrats counter that higher initial costs are justified if there is a substantial long-term payoff from putting more energy efficient standards in place.
House Energy and Power Subcommittee Chair Ed Whitefield, R-Ky., warns that with its ever stricter regulations, DOE is “becoming more of an advocate. They are getting closer to dictating and saying what will and will not be done.” To rein in DOE, the House draft bill would prohibit any DOE “actions that advocate, promote, or discourage the adoption of a particular building energy code, code provision, or energy savings target.” The draft would also block any DOE energy efficiency requirements unless the proven payback is realized in 10 years or less.
Testifying about the House draft’s plan to limit DOE, Elizabeth Noll, energy efficiency advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, warned that placing new limits on DOE “would be counterproductive to the goal of achieving energy savings.” She called for a long-term view, pointing out that “The energy decisions we make today will shape our children and grandchildren’s economic and environmental future.” She called building codes “the most-effective tool to ensure that efficiency is implemented when it is cheapest and easiest: when a building is first constructed.”
In terms of how energy efficiency benefits consumers, Noll explained that “A new refrigerator meeting the latest standard uses about a quarter of the energy of its 1973 counterpart, offers 20 percent more storage, and costs half as much. This improvement would not have happened had the government not set minimum standards.”
As for economy-wide benefits, Franz Matzner, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Beyond Oil Initiative, testified that energy efficiency is “one of the fastest growing sectors of the U.S. economy.” He said that with reports predicting U.S. energy use could drop 40 percent by 2050 while helping rather than hurting the economy, “The country’s energy efficiency resource is vast, and grows continuously as new technologies are developed.”
Showing the potential of energy efficiency measures, Mark Wagner, vice president for U.S. government relations for Johnson Controls, highlighted the savings already achieved with the Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs) being used to slash the energy bills for the nation’s largest user: the federal government.
Wagner testified in the House’s energy efficiency hearing that “there is clearly a vast opportunity for energy efficiency across the federal government at a time of reduced discretionary funding.” He noted that since 2007, the Energy Independence and Security Act has required federal agencies to perform energy audits of their facilities. With only half of the buildings audited in 2013, approximately $9 billion worth of energy conservation measures with a 10 year payback or less had been identified, he said.
Wagner noted that in its ESPC work at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, Johnson Controls has “invested over $100 million dollars in private sector capital for energy efficiency improvements” to include managing energy use in 120 buildings and installing 5,500 solar panels. At no cost to the federal government, he said, the improvements will save Fort Bliss $150 million over 20 years.
Wagner said ESPC contracts already have “delivered more than $7 billion in energy-related savings to the federal government alone and significant additional opportunities abound.”
To expand the use of ESPC contracts, the Senate is considering the bipartisan S. 858, the Energy Savings Through Public-Private Partnerships Act, sponsored by Gardner and co-sponsored by Portman, Shaheen and Chris Coons, D-Del. The corresponding House bill, H.R. 1629, introduced by Kinzinger, is co-sponsored by Welch along with Scott Peters, D-Calif., and David Valadao, R-Calif.