Building Energy Policy in a Post-Midterm World

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Andrew Burr
Institute for Market Transformation

What does the power shift in Congress and many statehouses mean for building energy policy? First, climate legislation is likely dead until 2012 or later, as Sen. Jeff Bingaman, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said this fall. Bingaman is still pushing his energy bill, which includes energy retrofit funding for commercial and multifamily property, and recently introduced a tax incentive bill that increases the Energy Efficient Commercial Building Tax Deduction to $3 per square foot.

Energy bills aren’t likely to move in the lame duck session, but the new Congress has options to pursue building efficiency. Two possibilities: Building Star, the $6 billion commercial retrofit incentives package; and the Recovery Through Building Renovation Act, a commercial retrofit financing bill introduced in September.

Few state-level bills with any significant price tag are moving, which makes a lot of new incentives unlikely. But there is continuing interest in commercial benchmarking and disclosure policy. Existing policies are in California, New York City and Washington, DC, and pending in at least a half-dozen other jurisdictions. By leveraging greater energy transparency to encourage more information and choice in markets, these proposals have secured bipartisan support—and the cost to taxpayers is negligible.

In the next few years, states will push for better code adoption and enforcement, especially now that a 30 percent improvement in the 2012 IECC model code is final. States also have new code compliance requirements tied to Recovery Act funding. According to IMT research, every dollar spent on energy code compliance yields $6 in energy savings for consumers, and energy code compliance-related activities can create more than 20,000 jobs every year.

Finally, look for cities and states to follow the lead of New York City’s Greener, Greater Buildings Plan combining benchmarking, periodic audits and retrocommissioning, and gradual lighting improvements and tenant sub metering. NYC officials predict these measures will create more than 10,000 jobs and save $700 million each year in energy costs.

Andrew Burr manages the building energy disclosure program at the Institute for Market Transformation, a Washington, DC-based energy policy nonprofit.

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