How Congress Can Spur Building Efficiency for $4M a Year

How Congress Can Spur Building Efficiency for $4M a Year

As the debt ceiling negotiations lurch forward and backward in Washington, I'm happy to report a recent and welcome showing of bipartisanship, this time on funding for the collection of national information on commercial building energy efficiency.

First, some background: U.S. data on commercial building energy use is obtained through CBECS, the Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey, conducted every four years by the Energy Information Administration, an independent statistical agency within the Department of Energy.

Real estate product types covered by CBECS include, among others, office, retail, education, lodging, health care, religious worship, grocery and restaurant space.

CBECS is not well-known, but is tremendously important in commercial building energy benchmarking. CBECS data are the foundation of the Energy Star benchmarking system, and are utilized by LEED and in the development of specialized energy models. The survey underpins both private sector and governmental efforts to make commercial properties more energy efficient.

Unfortunately, the last available CBECS survey was conducted in 2003. The 2007 survey was not released because a new (and less expensive) methodology did not produce valid statistical estimates. Even worse, work on the 2011 survey has been suspended because of budget cuts at the Energy Information Administration. That means that energy benchmarking for commercial real estate could continue to rely on 2003 data for the forseeable future.

Restoration of funding for the 2011 CBECS study would be comparatively inexpensive: $12 million over three years. That's a small price tag for data that could help to drive billions in commercial building energy savings. Commercial building energy retrofits are also expected to generate substantial U.S. job creation over the next decade. The 2011 CBECS would help to accelerate this process.

Happily, members of the bipartisan High Performance Building Congressional Caucus want to keep the 2011 CBECS survey alive. On July 13 caucus chairs Judy Biggert, Republican of Illinois, and Russ Carnahan, Democrat of Missouri took to the floor of the House of Representatives to urge that fiscal 2012 appropriations for the Energy Information Administration be used to complete CBECS 2011.

Representatives Biggert and Carnahan were supported on the House floor by Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, Republican of New Jersey and Chair of the House Energy & Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee and Representative Pete Visclosky of Indiana, the Subcommittee's senior Democrat. The discussion on the House floor is not binding, but it's a positive and bipartisan step in the right direction.

If you'd like to see CBECS 2011 funded, there are a number of steps you can take. The U.S. Senate is still considering its version of the 2012 federal budget. Write or call your Senator and members of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, led by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, asking that the Energy Information Administration appropriation include $12 million to complete CBECS 2011 over the next three years, and that the Subcommittee direct this use of funds in its official report.

Second, you or your company can join the High Performance Building Congressional Caucus Coalition, the private coalition that works with the Caucus. It's free to join, and organizations and individuals interested in high performance buildings are welcome -- contact the Coalition here. I am a member through my company, and I've found the Coalition's activities, which include educational outreach on sustainability and building energy efficiency, enlightening and constructive.

Photo CC-licensed by BlankBlankBlank.