WASHINGTON — At the 2013 Energy Efficiency Forum, a continuing topic addressed was energy legislation, specifically the Shaheen-Portman bill, S 761, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013. The senator and three congressmen who spoke at the forum all said there is broad bipartisan support in Congress for an energy bill, and Shaheen-Portman is one piece of legislation that actually could get passed.

Other speakers at the 24th annual forum, sponsored by the U.S. Energy Association and Johnson Controls, also expressed their support and urged Congress to act.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said there is a real opportunity, for the first time in years, to move forward on significant, bipartisan energy legislation. He stated, “We need to get Shaheen-Portman to the Senate floor,” adding he is very hopeful that the bill will get to the floor in July.

“An all-of-the-above energy strategy really starts with energy efficiency,” said Wyden. “There are benefits as far as the eye can see.”

Navigating the Senate floor can be a challenge, noted Wyden, stating that this bill should only be about energy and should not be used as a vehicle for a myriad array of amendments. Wyden urged everyone in attendance to ask their senators to get behind the Shaheen-Portman bill and get it to the floor. “We want to make this a history-making time for energy legislation.”

Need to Get Things Done

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said, “Bottom line, we have to get things done. Congress has to be a partner to facilitate the success of the private sector.”

HR 1616, the companion House bill to Shaheen-Portman, was introduced by Welch and Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va. With energy efficiency, Welch noted, you’re going to save money, you’re going to create jobs, and you’re going to encourage technology that can be built out to a scale to make it affordable. So efficiency makes sense whether you’re a Democrat or Republican.

Welch commented that, in Congress, there’s an emerging desire to find common ground.

Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., pointed out that in Colorado, conservation comes naturally because it’s an arid state and his district has it all in terms of energy, both traditional and renewable. He said that, for Republicans, “When we say the words energy efficiency or renewable energy, the hair shouldn’t stand up on the back of your neck.”

It’s a free-market principle that if something works, and people want it and are willing to pay for it, then let’s figure out a way to move it forward, he said.

Last December, Gardner and Welch cofounded the bipartisan Energy Savings Performance Caucus, to promote the use of energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs) for federal buildings, designed to save money in government operations. Now, they are planning to introduce legislation that the pair believes would put teeth into rules to make ESPCs happen.

Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., was formerly president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). He said, by pursuing energy efficiency we can really grow our economy.

“It is indeed a fiscal issue,” he said. “With the energy-efficiency retrofit industry, job creation is endless.”

Tonko said that the U.S. needs to have a diversified energy mix, including renewables, but “energy efficiency should be our fuel of choice.”

He related that he remembers the sputnik moment when the U.S. committed to getting to the moon first, ahead of the Russians. “If we commit with passion, we can get things done on the energy front.”

Working on the Local Level

Madeline Rogero, mayor of Knoxville, Tenn., said energy efficiency and sustainability were themes of her campaign when she ran for mayor.

“If you have a high utility bill, you do not have affordable housing,” she said. She put together a program to build affordable housing that was certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold.

Vacant buildings are also on Rogero’s agenda. For a 100-year-old building that is unused and blighted, her administration used stimulus dollars and other federal money to create 57 units of housing for the chronically homeless. A deferred loan program for business façade renewal was launched. Rogero noted that many business owners put even more money into their buildings to make further improvements.

Rogero concluded by paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr. “Most community and political leaders are like thermometers that simply record the ideas and principles of popular opinion — they play it safe — rather than being the thermostats that regulate the temperature in the room and transform our society.”

Daniel Yergin, Ph.D., is founder of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates and vice chairman of IHS, an international information company. He stated, “The growth of energy efficiency has been a contributor to economic growth and not a hindrance to economic growth.”

When it comes to energy, “a better supplied world is a safer world,” he said. He further cited an Exxon Mobil Corp. report that says energy efficiency will be the biggest contributor to energy.

“Unfortunately, energy-efficiency projects don’t usually generate excitement. It’s very hard to create a photo op for energy efficiency,” said Yergin.

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said energy efficiency creates jobs “and better yet these are all jobs that cannot be outsourced, because you cannot weatherize a home or upgrade an industrial facility from overseas.”

Markell said he is working to make energy efficiency Delaware’s first fuel. If we can pay 3 cents per kWh for efficiency versus 8 cents per kWh for electricity, he said, we should always buy efficiency.

“Energy efficiency needs to be at the center of our national energy strategy,” said Markell. “It ought to be the area where there’s the greatest potential for agreement in the current Congress.” Regarding national legislation, he asked everyone to put their support behind the Shaheen-Portman bill.

Energy-Efficiency Indicator

Dave Myers, president, Building Efficiency, Johnson Controls, presented results of the seventh annual Energy Efficiency Indicator survey, which had over 3,000 respondents from 10 countries.

In 2013, 41 percent of respondents said energy management is extremely important to their company. There has been a 10 percent increase year over year of companies saying that they are paying a lot more attention to energy efficiency.

A majority of executives continue to report that they will increase investment in energy-efficiency and renewable-energy projects, but activity remains flat.

The survey confirmed that there is a relationship between companies with energy-reduction goals and their actions. Organizations with public goals implemented 50 percent more energy-efficiency measures than organizations without goals.

Seventy-three percent of organizations intend to achieve nearly zero, net-zero, or positive-energy status for at least one new facility.

Respondents said policies that improve project economics, such as tax credits/incentives or rebates, remain at the top of the list as far as driving energy-efficiency improvements.

The panel discussion, titled, “Energy Efficiency Practices in a New Energy Economy,” was moderated by Marc Gunther, contributing editor, Fortune magazine, and consisted of Maria Vargas, senior program advisor, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and director of the DOE’s Better Buildings Challenge; Jeff Genzer, vice president, Duncan, Weinberg, Genzer & Pembroke P.C.; Nancy Floyd, founder and managing director, Nth Power; and David Gabrielson, executive director, Property Assessed Cleam Energy (PACE) Now.

Vargas said the Better Buildings Challenge is trying to achieve a 20 percent reduction in building energy use by 2020. There are 120 organizations involved including financial allies and utility allies to help implement change.

Genzer said virtually all states are moving forward with energy savings performance contracts. He said energy efficiency “is not a red state or blue state issue. It really is a nonpartisan issue.”

PACE is a way to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades to buildings. Property owners receive 100 percent financing, repaid as a property tax assessment for up to 20 years. Gabrielson said 30 states and D.C. have passed legislation to get the PACE program in place.

Asked for one federal measure she’d like to see happen, Floyd stated, “Let’s get bipartisan support on anything energy related.”

Publication date: 7/8/2013