Democrats to Turn Spotlight on Energy Efficiency Programs This Week

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New York Times
By: Katherine Ling of Greenwire
March 8, 2010

Democrats will turn the focus to energy efficiency standards and incentive programs this week with hearings in the Senate and House energy panels.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is a champion for energy efficiency and has pushed stakeholders and focused his staff on improving standards across the board this session. He is also leading efforts to get energy efficiency tax incentives for home and commercial building included in the Democrats' jobs agenda.
So far, Democrats have included a one-year credit extension of $1,000 to $2,000 for new energy efficient homes in the tax extenders bill the Senate is set to take up this week. Bingaman would like to put more efficiency incentives in future jobs bills and is hoping the two hearings may convince more of his colleagues, including ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Thursday, Bingaman's panel will consider the "Home Star" program (also known as "Cash for Caulkers") to provide rebates for upgrades to homes; "Building Star," a similar program for commercial retrofits; and manufactured housing rebates. A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will take up the issue on Friday.

Bingaman has the backing of President Obama, who outlined a proposal for a "Home Star" program in a speech last week and repeated his call on Congress to pass incentives for home owners to make their houses more energy efficient from his State of the Union address.

"We know this will save families as much as several hundred dollars on their utilities," Obama said. "We know it will make our economy less dependent on fossil fuels, helping to protect the planet for future generations. But I want to emphasize that Home Star will also create business and spur hiring up and down the economy."

"One of the best things about energy efficiency," Obama said, is that most products, such as windows and insulation, are manufactured in the United States -- perhaps an important element as renewable energy development is coming under fire for requiring components that currently are mostly made overseas (Greenwire, March 4).

The administration's proposal is largely informed by a committee majority staff draft in which consumers can receive a rebate for 50 percent of the project or up to $1,500 per retrofit for a total benefit not to exceed $3,000; or, if a whole home is upgraded for 20 percent savings the homeowner could get up to $3,000.

All rebates would be provided instantly at the retail store, similar to last year's vehicle "Cash for Clunkers" program aimed to get old inefficient cars off the road and to boost auto sales.

The plan is estimated to cost about $6 billion and could improve up to 3 million homes.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on Home Star on Friday.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Energy and the Environment Subcommittee, has been a major advocate of "clean energy" jobs and made several speeches last week touting the potential for jobs in the energy efficiency and renewable energy sector.

Markey in particular has been interested in the potential for digital "smart grid" technology that could provide energy efficiency to homes and the electricity grid. A massive rebate program like Home Star that would replace millions of older appliances could help accelerate the installation of new energy-efficient appliances with wireless communication capabilities.

The technology would enable the appliance to communicate with a "smart meter" or network that could make sure appliances run during low electricity demand periods or even briefly cut unnecessary power use during peak demand times. This ability could add to the millions of tons of greenhouse gas emission reductions already expected from the more energy efficient products by reducing the need to build new power plants or to use "peak" natural gas plants.

The price tag may raise some eyebrows, especially for Murkowski and other Republican lawmakers. Murkowski last week advised caution about adding new energy programs in jobs bills (E&E Daily, Feb. 5).

The other two bills under consideration at the Senate hearing could encounter similar protests. S. 1320 (pdf), introduced by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), would provide up to $7,500 in rebates for an Energy Star-qualified manufactured home for a low-income household.

Legislation for "Building Star," introduced last week by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), would offer rebates for up to 30 percent of the cost of upgrades to energy-related equipment including energy audits, lighting, energy management and insulation for commercial buildings.

The program could create as many as 150,000 jobs in the next two years, save building owners more than $3 billion on their energy bills and cut greenhouse gas emissions the equivalent of almost 4 million cars, Merkley's office said in a statement.

Industry ready to move

The Senate Energy panel will consider four bills on Wednesday looking to set efficiency standards for water heaters, video game consoles, spas, air conditioners and other high-energy consumption appliances.

While perhaps not as headline grabbing as Home Star, the four bills face perhaps a smoother ride to the president's desk and could provide a significant amount of energy savings.

But S. 3059 (pdf) is a bipartisan bill sponsored by Bingaman, Murkowski and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) that features aggressive energy efficient targets negotiated by efficiency advocates and industry that could result in almost 33 billion kilowatt hours of energy savings and 22.5 million megatons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2020, according to the committee. By 2030, the energy savings and emissions savings are estimated to more than triple.

The standards under the bill include air conditioners, heat pumps, street and parking lot lights, and furnaces. The bill also tightens reporting requirements and testing procedures.

The hearing will also feature two other measures sponsored by Menendez, S. 1696 (pdf), which would conduct a study of video game console energy efficiency, and S. 3054 (pdf), which would establish efficiency standards for bottle-type water dispensers, commercial hot food holding cabinets and portable electric spas.

Senate schedule: The Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on energy efficiency standards is Wednesday, March 10, at 9:30 a.m. in 366 Dirksen.

Witnesses: Kathleen Hogan, deputy assistant secretary, Energy Efficiency, DOE; Steven Nadel, executive director, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy; Joseph McGuire, president, Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers; Stephen Yurek, president and CEO of the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute; and Kyle Pitsor, vice president, government relations, National Electrical Manufacturers Association.

Senate schedule: The Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on "Home Star" is Thursday, March 11, at 10 a.m. in 366 Dirksen.

Witnesses: Catherine Zoi, assistant secretary of energy efficiency and renewable energy, DOE; Larry Laseter, president, Masco Home Services; Jeffrey DeBoer, president and CEO of the Real Estate Roundtable; Terrence Mierzwa, executive manager of marketing, efficiency and research, Consumers Energy; Phil Giudice, commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources; Stacey Epperson, executive director, Frontier Housing; and a representative for the National Association of Home Builders.

House schedule The Energy and Commerce Committee hearing is Friday, March 12, at 9:30 a.m. in 2123 Rayburn.

Witnesses: TBA.

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