Efficiency Measure Can Serve as Foundation for Comprehensive Energy Strategy

One amendment added this week to the Senate’s Keystone pipeline bill that carries significance to clean energy stakeholders is the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency measure, a narrowly drawn piece of legislation that has broad bipartisan support in both houses.

The measure authored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) would establish a voluntary, market-driven approach to aligning the interests of commercial building owners and their tenants to reduce energy consumption; exempt certain electric resistance water heaters used for demand response from pending DOE regulation; require federal agencies to coordinate with OMB, DOE and EPA to develop an implementation strategy for energy saving information technologies; and require that federally leased buildings without Energy Star labels benchmark and disclose their energy usage data, where practical.

Energy efficiency is the option of first choice under the 25x’25 Vision that by 2025, America’s farms, ranches and forestlands can meet 25 percent of the nation’s energy needs through renewable resources, including biofuels, biomass, wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower.

The Shaheen-Portman amendment was readily adopted in the Senate (94-5) because its provisions are budget neutral and it passed the House with overwhelming support last Congress.

But Shaheen knows her measure in this form will probably not see the light of day because the underlying Keystone legislation faces opposition from the White House that Congress is unlikely to overcome. Still, a broader efficiency bill drafted by the two senators and from which the amendment was drawn has good odds of passing Congress later this year.

Energy efficiency is often referred to as the “low-hanging fruit” in the pursuit of a clean energy future. While the Shaheen-Portman amendment to the Keystone bill may not go anywhere in the near term, the broader, widely supported efficiency bill has great prospects. The more comprehensive bill could – and should ‑ launch a wider discussion among lawmakers about a national strategy that includes a diverse portfolio of energy technologies.

Efficiency is an incredibly valuable part of the portfolio. It’s good for the economy by helping meet the challenges of a growing demand for electricity and its rising costs. Lawmakers don’t have to look far to see the federal efficiency programs that are already benefiting consumers.

The most recent example is USDA’s new Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program (EECLP), which funded its first loans to two co-ops. The program allows the department’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) borrowers to implement energy efficiency upgrades for consumers through the use of loans for energy audits and energy efficiency upgrades, including weatherization, HVAC improvements, high efficiency lighting and conversions to more efficient or renewable energy sources, such as consumer-scale solar power and ground source heat pumps.

The Rural Energy Savings Program (RESP) is a program included in the farm bill adopted early last year that offers $75 million annually in discretionary funding over the five-year life of the farm bill that the RUS can use to make zero interest loans to eligible cooperatives for energy efficiency programs. RESP marks for the first time the ability of co-ops to lend RUS funds to consumers to undertake their own efficiency upgrades.

The 25x’25 Alliance urges stakeholders to remind lawmakers that energy efficiency can lower household energy bills and improve business competitiveness. Congress should keep a focus on the broader Shaheen-Portman bill, get it passed unencumbered by partisan haggling, and send it to the White House. But let’s also urge lawmakers to use the efficiency legislation as a solid foundation upon which Congress can build a comprehensive, long-term U.S. energy strategy.

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