Energy Bill Passed by Senate Committee

June 17, 2009

Members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the American Clean Energy Leadership Act, its version of an energy bill, yesterday. Like the House climate change bill, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the Senate legislation does not address windows and/or fenestration specifically, but it includes numerous measures designed to improve building energy efficiency.

Among the provisions in the bill are calls for the Department of Energy to support updates of the International Energy Conservation Code and ASHRAE -90.1 to achieve at least every three years to achieve overall energy savings of at least 30 percent compared to previous editions. DOE would establish specific targets for each year three years in advance “at the maximum level of energy efficiency that is technologically feasible and life-cycle cost effective and on a path to achieving net zero-energy buildings.”

In addition to strengthening the model codes, the legislation includes provisions to require states to that their codes meet similar goals as those established by the model codes, as well as financial assistance to states to enforce their energy codes. The bill would also require the establishment of a voluntary, advanced energy efficiency building code.

Under the bill, the federal government would also provide a variety of funding and grants to assist in the retrofitting of homes and commercial buildings to make them more energy efficient. One program would provide financial assistance for retrofitting multifamily housing and replacement of pre-1976 manufactured housing. Another program would increase spending on low-income weatherization programs.

The bill includes funding for states to implement programs that would provide grants to homeowners that undertake prescriptive and/or performance-based energy efficiency upgrades. Although the qualifying prescriptive steps are not spelled out, the bill would offer grants of $1,000 for measures that achieved overall energy savings of 10 percent and $2,000 for energy savings of more than 20 percent.

Grants of $3,000 would be available projects achieving a 20 percent whole-house reduction in energy consumption, based on a performance-based scale, with an additional $150 for each additional 1 percent reduction up to $12,000.  Also designed to encourage more energy efficient upgrades of homes, the bill would create the Home Energy Retrofit Finance Program to provide money to states to help homeowners finance such projects.

Other provisions in the bill include funding for programs to support builder and contractor training and assessment, efforts to better measure and track building energy performance, and the establishment of the residential high performance zero-net energy buildings initiative. The goal of that initiative would be to develop and disseminate technologies and practices that will enable the design and construction of zero-net energy buildings by 2015, and make such practices cost effective for any new residential building by 2020.

The main goal of the Senate legislation is to expand the use of renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar and geothermal sources, as well as deal with concerns about the nation’s high-voltage power grid. The bill would also open up much of the Gulf Coast to offshore drilling. A number of Democrats are unhappy that the bill does not go far enough in pushing renewable energy. Several Republicans would like to see measures added to increase the use of nuclear energy, as well as domestic oil and gas production.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told the Associated Press he hopes to take up energy legislation after the August recess, although it's uncertain whether it will be merged with separate legislation addressing climate change.