Representatives David B. McKinley, P.E., (R-WV) and Peter Welch (D-VT) On May 23, Representatives David B. McKinley, P.E., (R-WV) and Peter Welch (D-VT), co-chairs of the High Performance Building Caucus, introduced two pieces of legislation that would encourage energy efficiency investments in residential and commercial buildings as well as create jobs in contracting, retail, manufacturing and construction. The bipartisan Home Owner Managing Energy Savings (HOMES) Act (H.R. 2128) would incentivize homeowners to invest in energy efficiency improvements to their homes by providing rebates to help cover the cost of home energy retrofits.

Their second bill, The Better Buildings Act (H.R. 2126) , facilitates cooperation between landlords and tenants to ensure energy efficient practices in buildings. This Act includes the “Tenant Star Program,” through which the Department of Energy would issue certifications to recognize energy efficiency in spaces leased by tenants.

Ellen Vaughan, Policy Director for High Performance Green Buildings at EESI, commended Reps. McKinley and Welch’s efforts: "EESI applauds the Congressmen for their leadership on energy efficiency and high performance building. In introducing these bills and co-chairing the High Performance Building Congressional Caucus , Reps. Welch and McKinley are demonstrating that high-performing houses and buildings with low utility bills are valuable to all Americans in all communities.” Their collaboration also shows that energy efficiency has bipartisan support, she added. This spring the Congressmen also introduced a House companion to the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013 by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) . Vaughan noted that EESI is eager to work with Reps. Welch and McKinley on the HOMES Act, the Better Buildings Act, and other policy proposals.

On top of saving consumers money, energy efficiency is associated with higher quality and more comfortable homes and buildings. Today's best practices also ensure good indoor air quality even with tight construction. Measures that reduce building energy use also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Achieving a sustainable building sector will require action at all levels of government and the private sector. For example, many home owners and business owners do not have cash on hand for major renovations or even minor retrofits and do not want additional credit card debt. Better financial products are needed to help consumers with upfront costs for “green” construction and retrofits that are a sound investment in long-term energy/dollar savings. Even as the building industry learns to build green more affordably, U.S. housing and mortgage underwriting policies have not kept up. EESI supports the Sensible Accounting to Value Energy of 2011 (SAVE) Act , S. 1737, introduced by Senators Bennet (D-CO) and Isakson (R-GA.), which requires lenders to factor energy efficiency into their calculations. EESI is also studying the viability and replicability of innovative state, local and private-sector initiatives. These include on-bill financing programs with utilities and rural electric co-ops (such as "Help My House," a pilot energy efficiency program in South Carolina that EESI is part of), Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans, and market-based initiatives that could unlock the door to private capitalization of net-zero energy construction and deep-energy retrofits.

These and other innovative initiatives in the building sector provide a positive outlook for energy efficiency policy. “This issue transcends political ideology,” said Rep. McKinley. "[The HOMES Act and "Tenant Star"] are common sense ideas that will create jobs, save money for consumers and conserve energy."

Author: Rachel Hampton

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