WASHINGTON — Members of the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) recently visited Washington, D.C., to share their thoughts and concerns with legislators through AHRI’s annual Public Policy Symposium. Attendees discussed the absence of viable federal energy policy legislation, Congressional gridlock, pending energy-efficiency bills, and much more.

Keith Coursin, president of Desert Aire Corp., an AHRI member who attended the symposium, said he was impressed with the legislative process. “I always marvel at how our government actually works with such young staffers collecting information on such diverse topics and sorting through the many viewpoints to help our elected officials set policy,” he said. “I am also equally impressed at what a personal visit can accomplish in creating support for or against key issues. You do not get much time to state your point, but that 15 to 20 minutes can be the difference on how congressional members and senators will vote.”

Legislative Issues

Symposium attendees listened to several senators and representatives discuss industry-related propositions during a visit to the U.S. Capitol.

The Home Owner Managing Energy Savings (HOMES) Act of 2012 (H.R. 4230) was introduced March 21 in the House of Representatives. It was sponsored by Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and co-sponsored by Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. The act provides rebates to homeowners who reduce energy consumption as a result of a qualified home energy efficiency retrofit. The legislation offers homeowners up to $8,000 for a 50 percent reduction in home energy use.

“The HOMES Act is based on the proposition that less is more,” said Welch, before a congressional hearing room filled with AHRI member manufacturers. “If folks have an opportunity to reduce energy consumption by retrofitting their homes, that to me is a good deal.

“If we have a policy that embraces the fact that we can reduce carbon emissions by one-third through efficiency — using American manufacturing and American jobs — and provide savings for American homeowners, what is to dislike about that plan?”

The Smart Energy Act (H.R. 4017) was introduced by Rep. Charlie Bass, R-N.H., and co-sponsored by six representatives on Feb. 14.

According to Bass, the act will establish a strategic plan to double electricity production by 2020 through the use of combined heat and power and waste heat recovery; expand existing funding mechanisms to ensure advanced energy-efficiency systems and technologies are on a level playing field with other programs aimed at reducing our dependency on foreign energy sources; and require federal agencies to utilize a variety of methods to save energy across the entire government.

“Energy efficiency is no longer just putting insulation from the local hardware store in the attic. It is about very complex new technologies that create real revenue and make sense financially,” said Bass, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “This bill is subjected on lessening our dependence on foreign oil, diversifying energy resources, and moving toward more efficient consumption of energy.”

AHRI’S Agenda

Several AHRI leaders shared their thoughts on multiple pressing topics through a media roundtable event.

David Calabrese, AHRI senior vice president of policy, said the institute is keeping an eye on DOE certification testing, Implementation of National Consensus Appliance Agreements Act (INCAAA) Lite, and the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2011.

“Our purpose here on Capitol Hill is to educate members of Congress on our certification program to encourage DOE to rely upon our program,” he said. “Our program has been around 50-plus years, and we’d like the DOE to see it as a resource for them. We’ve asked the Secretary to consider how they are relying on our program and programs like ours.”

INCAAA Lite addresses building code provisions that were left over from the original INCAAA bill, proposed by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., in February 2011, which served as a precursor to regional standards. INCAAA Lite provisions provide new standards for the service of over-the-counter commercial refrigerators, a change to standards regarding the measurement of energy use in water heaters and standards for small-duct, high-velocity air conditioners, and some needed technical fixes, said Calabrese.

The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2011, also known as the Shaheen-Portman bill (S. 1000), would have put DOE in the position to develop energy-savings targets that the International Code Council (ICC) and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating & Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) would be directed to meet. The bill would require ICC and ASHRAE to revise their building codes every couple of years. If ICC and ASHRAE failed to meet those code revision targets, DOE would develop its own model building codes. Under these codes, DOE would direct states and tie federal funding to those states.

“We didn’t feel that would be a good idea,” said Calabrese. “We developed a coalition of organizations and associations, and negotiated with senators and environmental groups to develop a new version of the bill, which may re-emerge later this year. The revised bill would remove the DOE’s backstop authority.”

Stephen Yurek, AHRI president, addressed the enforcement of regional standards.

“The DOE put out a proposed regional standard enforcement solution that was based on tracking and documenting the distribution and installation of each unit. That burden would be cumbersome to everyone involved,” said Yurek. “We said the best way to enforce these standards would be to use a redesigned Federal Trade Commission [FTC] label and the AHRI directory. Both ACCA [Air Conditioning Contractors of America] and HARDI [Heating, Airconditioning, & Refrigeration Distributors International] support this idea.

“We feel this regulation should only be applied to products that are either below 14 SEER, because 14 SEER is acceptable nationwide, and furnaces below 90 percent AFUE. Inspectors could then go on the website and check the directory to ensure the unit is a match. We feel this is a pretty good solution.”

As of press time, DOE had not responded to AHRI’s comments and enforcement alternatives.

2012: A Lack of Hope

“There is a limited interest in energy legislation in this Congress, and that may only get worse with time,” said Calabrese. “A number of folks in the House and Senate look at energy legislation as a bad thing — even if there is industry support behind it.”

During a Congressional briefing, AHRI chairman Ajita Rajendra pleaded with Congress on behalf of the HVACR industry.

“There are many current bills that we support, the industry supports, and energy-efficiency advocates support that are very good for the country, but these bills just don’t get voted through,” he said. “Do you have any advice for us? What else can we do?”

Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., said a gridlocked Congress leaves only a glimmer of hope. “I’d suggest you continue to reach out to members on both sides of the aisle, on all sides of the issue,” he said. “We have two hyper-partisan teams locked in a stalemate, and each side sees an election on the horizon that could give them a leg up on the struggle for power. Unfortunately, this creates more of the same.

“But, I’ll give you grounds for hope. In the next election I foresee a narrowing of the margins in the House, as some of those with extreme views may be replaced with those with a more moderate thought process. While I don’t foresee any wholesale changes, I foresee this narrowing of the majority increasing the stock of the centrists, which may help us be a bit more productive here in Washington.”

Publication date: 05/14/2012