Representatives David B. McKinley, P.E., (R-WV) and Peter Welch (D-VT)On March 5, the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2014 (H.R. 2126) passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 375 to 36, with 19 abstentions. This bipartisan energy bill, sponsored by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), aims to promote energy efficiency best practices in commercial and federal buildings. The bill is an amalgamation of several prior efforts, which are retained in the bill as titles, including Better Buildings (originally sponsored by Reps. McKinley and Welch), Energy Efficient Government Technology (Reps. Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA)), Grid-Enabled Water Heaters (Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY)), and Energy Information for Commercial Buildings (Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL)).

Liz Tate, director of government relations at the Alliance to Save Energy, commented that she hopes H.R. 2126 “will mark the beginning of a new era of bipartisan cooperation on energy efficiency policies.” Rep. Welch remarked that as the House bill moves into the Senate, it could be reconciled with the Shaheen-Portman energy-efficiency bill, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (S. 761).

The Better Buildings title would establish a Tenant Star program within Energy Star at the Department of Energy (DOE), which would encourage renters to voluntarily implement energy-efficiency measures in homes they do not own. The title also asks DOE to conduct a study examining feasible methods of improving energy efficiency in rented spaces in commercial buildings. Rep. Whitfield’s Grid-Enabled Water Heaters title would exempt some thermal storage water heaters from regulation under upcoming April 2015 DOE efficiency standards. The Energy Efficient Government Technology title promotes federal energy efficiency by requiring federal agencies develop energy saving strategies; requiring the Department of Energy (DOE) improve baseline energy efficiency benchmarks for data centers; and requiring DOE create an Open Data Initiative to make federal information accessible to everyone. Finally, the Energy Information for Commercial Buildings title would ensure that all federal buildings, not only those which are Energy Star certified, benchmark and disclose data on their energy use.

Congress has not passed a significant bill on energy since 2007, when it passed the Energy Independence and Security Act (P.L. 110-140), which was signed into law by President Bush on December 19, 2007. In 2009, Congress tried again with the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2425), commonly known as Waxman-Markey, which passed the House only to die in the Senate.

In a separate effort, EESI has been working to promote residential energy efficiency through "on-bill financing" programs, in which loans for energy efficiency improvements are repaid through the beneficiary’s electric bills. EESI has worked closely with South Carolina's rural electric cooperatives for several years on their successful on-bill financing pilot, "Help My House," which reduced participants' average electricity use by 34 percent while also providing a net financial benefit. The success of this and other programs helped spur national interest in the approach, and now two national programs exist at USDA that will provide loans to co-ops to fund on-bill financing programs: the Rural Energy Savings Program (RESP), created by the recently passed farm bill; and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program (EECLP), finalized in December 2013 through a USDA rulemaking.