2 years after failure of Waxman-Markey Bill, U.S. Congress re-examines energy policy

On May 12, 2011, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (ESICA) was introduced in the U.S. Congress by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio). The purpose of this bipartisan initiative is to establish a national strategy to increase the adoption of energy efficient technologies, an effort following the release of the Department of Energy’s 2011 strategic plan, presented by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu on May 10.

Top priorities: standardization and funding for energy efficiency investments

Signaling the White House’s renewed emphasis on energy efficiency, the DOE strategic plan gives priority to energy savings by recommending measures like a five-year review of minimum appliance efficiency standards, the development of new standards to limit the energy consumption of certain kinds of products, the development of efficiency standards and test procedures for 75% of the energy used in buildings, fund raising and the leveraging of partnerships to spur the energy renovation of one million homes by 2013. Read the whole report here.

The approach of Senators Shaheen and Portman follows closely that of the DOE plan and places an additional emphasis on the updating or creation of relative standards for green building and ecodesign. ESICA likewise offers a response to the financial challenges in both the residential and commercial sectors.

The four principal measures described in the text, which is currently under review by the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, include the updating of building energy codes and standards of ecodesign for certain uses, the implementation of a federal funding program to help manufacturers reduce their energy consumption, a credit support program for renovations that improve energy efficiency in commercial and institutional buildings, and an energy savings program for rural areas that would authorize the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to offer zero-interest loans to public utilities and electric cooperatives for up to twenty years to finance energy efficiency measures. A section by section summary of these measures can be found here.

Revisiting the idea of a federal building energy code

Section 201 of 2009’s Waxman-Markey Bill (or the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009), which passed in the U.S. House of Representatives but died in the Senate, included the creation of a federal building energy code that would impose minimum energy efficiency standards at the state level and goals to reduce consumption in new buildings. Demanded by a large coalition of advocates in 2009 and 2010, the reinforcement of the federal building energy codification was proposed at a time when twelve states had yet to develop such a code for commercial buildings and eleven didn’t have one in effect for residential properties.

In light of these shortcomings, ESICA would authorize the secretary of energy to establish a zero net energy use goal for residential buildings and new commercial properties by 2030. ESICA also anticipates the federal building energy code to be based on the 2009 IECC (International Energy Conservation Code) standards of the International Code Council and the ASHRAE 90.1 standard set by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

ESICA began its long legislative journey on May 12 with its introduction in the Democrat-led Senate, and will continue on to the House of Representatives, where the Republican Party has held the majority since November 2010. While less vast in its scope than the Waxman-Markey Bill, ESICA is also a bipartisan initiative, and will doubtlessly require both parties and houses of Congress to reach a consensus before it can become law.

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