House forms caucus to raise federal energy efficiency
Last year, President Obama authorized up to $2 billion to raise the energy efficiency of federal buildings, but few agencies have taken advantage of the opportunity.
Given that the funds are for Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs) that would add up to $20 billion worth of cuts in energy consumption -- especially amidst the government's focus on cutting unnecessary spending -- why aren't agencies lining up for this?
The new Energy Savings Performance Caucus in the House seeks to rectify this. Led by Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Peter Welch (D-VT), its goal is to "push for policies that reduce energy costs, cut pollution and create jobs,” they say.
Calling energy efficiency one of the few bipartisan "sweet spots," they say:
“There is nearly 3 billion square feet of building space that is owned and operated by the federal government, and by making government buildings more energy efficient we can save taxpayer dollars and give a boost the construction and energy sectors of our economy."
Under an Energy Savings Performance Contract, the organization doesn't pay for energy retrofits up front. Rather, the contractor finances any upfront investments needed in new equipment, windows, insulation, etc. and installs them. The organization reimburses the contractor over time, making payments based on the actual savings on utility bills that result from the retrofit.
The Caucus plans to encourage agencies to enter performance contracts as well as hold them accountable for meeting specific energy reduction targets. This will have the secondary benefit of creating green jobs for local contractors that have been hit hard by the housing slump.
"They’ve got the skills, and they need the work,” Welch told The Hill.
Members of the bipartisan Caucus are: Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Lee Terry (R-NE), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Charlie Dent (R-PA), Mike Michaud (D-ME), Ron Kind (D-WI) and Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam).
The effort has drawn praise from industry groups that often find themselves on the opposite side of issues, such as the Alliance to Save Energy, Federal Performance Contracting Coalition, National Association of Manufacturers, and US Chamber of Commerce.
“The National Association of Manufactures supports policies to enhance private sector investment in public building efficiency improvement projects, and performance contracting is at the very top of that list. Performance contracts, such as ESPCs and UESCs, are extremely valuable tools that make federal buildings more efficient with no upfront taxpayer cost. They should be the very first option taken by agencies, yet they are perpetually underutilized," says Ross Eisenberg, vice president of Energy and Resources Policy.
In 2008, the Dept of Energy authorized contracts that would lead to $80 billion in energy savings through federal building retrofits and the Army Corps of Engineers announced similar measures for $900 million in savings for the Army.
The House also overwhelmingly passed energy efficiency legislation this month in a rare moment of bipartisan action, which now goes to the Senate for final approval.
More on the federal program can be found here.