Friday, January 02, 2015

Wait! Is there something that Republicans and Democrats can agree on?

Energy Efficiency May Be Bipartisan Winner

By: JORDAN WIRFS-BROCK | Inside Energy

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado is the country's largest net-zero energy building. The duct-work is in the floor, unlike in most buildings, where it's in the ceilings.

When it comes to U.S. energy consumption, transportation and power plants leap to mind as top power users. Buildings, though, are not far behind. Commercial buildings account for one-fifth of our energy use. Much of that is pure waste, leaking from poorly-insulated walls or lights left on when no one is around. Energy efficiency is one of the few issues with support from both Republicans and Democrats, as well as private industry. In the new GOP-controlled Congress, the timing for energy efficiency legislation may finally be right.

Visiting the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado is like stepping into the future. Part of the U.S. Department of Energy, NREL is the country’s largest net-zero energy building: It produces more energy on-site than it uses.

A lot of that is due to energy efficiency.

NREL’s main office building, which is 360,000 square feet and houses 1,300 employees, is a test bed for technologies that help us do more with less. The ventilation system pipes in fresh air from outside. The windows have what look like shiny metallic Venetian blinds that direct sunlight up onto the ceiling. From the shape of the stairways down to the position of the power strips, every detail has been carefully selected to minimize waste. The building does have cutting-edge technology, like windows with glass that automatically darkens. But the rest are “things that everyone can do. Best practices that are available to everyone that has a building,” said Shanti Pless, an energy efficiency engineer at NREL.

These practices could be a lot more common if a bill known as Shaheen-Portman passes through Congress. Shaheen-Portman addresses energy efficiency for federal government facilities, commercial buildings, and rental properties in a pretty gentle way, lining out a number of voluntary programs and guidelines. It does not include mandates, or binding requirements.

Broadly bipartisan, the bill is sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, and Rob Portman, a Republican of Ohio. One version, introduced in the Senate in 2014, included 10 bipartisan amendments. It also received a letter of support from 200 companies and organizations, including the Large Public Power Council and the American Institute of Architects. A slimmed-down version of it passed the House in 2014. Despite Shaheen-Portman’s broad support and money-saving potential, the bill has failed in the Senate.

Even without mandates or strict requirements, federal energy efficiency policy could have a big impact. The American Center for an Energy-Efficient Economy, ACEEE, estimates that a policy like Shaheen-Portman could create 190,000 jobs and save the government $16 billion dollars in the next 15 years.

(More here.)


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