On April 30, President Barack Obama signed into law the Energy Efficiency Investment Act of 2015. The law, which is the first energy-efficiency legislation to pass both chambers of Congress during the Obama administration, has consistently received widespread bipartisan support in both the U.S. House and Senate. While many in the HVACR industry are applauding the legislation, which they believe will boost business and help encourage the development of energy-efficient products and technologies, they also acknowledge the modest bill could do more. Still, the legislation, which many are calling symbolic, represents a victory and a large step in the right direction for both Congress and energy-efficiency advocates across the nation.

Industry Support

For the HVACR industry, the legislation benefits water heater manufacturers, in particular, said Stephen Yurek, president and CEO, Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI). Among other things, the law amends the Energy Policy and Conservation Act to exempt certain grid-enabled electric resistance water heaters from pending U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) water heater energy conservation standards.

“This bill is an excellent — and rare — example of all sides working together to enact common-sense energy legislation,” Yurek said. “The water heater language is good for consumers, good for utilities, and allows manufacturers to provide products that meet the needs of the market. We are glad to see Congress was able to work quickly to get this bill to the president’s desk so these water heaters will continue to be available for use in utility load-management programs.”

ACCA also supports the bill, said Charlie McCrudden, senior vice president of government relations for ACCA. “Senators Portman and Shaheen never stopped pushing their leaders, even when the energy debate got bogged down on other matters,” he said. “The water heater fix is important, and the recognition programs for commercial building owners and tenants fills a gap in the incentive portfolio that should drive more energy-efficiency retrofits. That means more work for contractors and more energy savings for customers.”

The law also establishes Tenant Star — a voluntary, market-driven approach to aligning the interests of commercial building owners and their tenants to reduce energy consumption — and requires federally leased buildings without Energy Star labels benchmark to disclose their energy usage data, said Kevin J. Cosgriff, president and CEO, National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA).

“Over the last two months, NEMA has led a group of businesses, associations, independent electric grid operators, and non-governmental organizations to come together and strongly support S 535,” Cosgriff said. “This legislative package is a no-cost, no-mandate law that helps advance energy efficiency through reduced regulatory burden, increased transparency, and a focus on the federal government as a first mover to save taxpayer dollars on energy bills.”

Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, also applauded the law. “S 535 will reduce energy use in the built environment, which is the largest energy-consuming sector in the U.S. economy,” she said.

“[Now] signed into law by President Obama, the legislation will create new jobs, reduce CO2 emissions, [and yield] approximately $4.6 billion in annual energy savings by the year 2030. The alliance is confident the passage of S 535 will set the stage for energy-efficiency policies to play a prominent role in the comprehensive energy bills currently being developed by committees in both chambers.”

The law’s two authors, U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, have been working across the aisle on energy efficiency legislation since 2011, when they first introduced the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act.

The two senators should be commended for their tireless efforts, said Jon Melchi, vice president of government affairs and business development, Heating, Air-conditioning, and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI).

“Senators Shaheen and Portman, as opposed to saying, ‘We tried,’ and kind of taking their ball and going home, they need to be acknowledged for really working to get something passed,” Melchi said. “I don’t think it’s a broad law, and I don’t think it’s what they had in mind when they drafted their first bill, but they did the best they could do. We’re pleased to see they were able to come together and pass this legislation.”

A ‘Positive Start’

While ACCA, AHRI, HARDI, NEMA, and other industry organizations are supportive of the legislation, many say S 535 is more symbolic than it is effective, and numerous media outlets, including the New York Times and National Law Review, have labeled the bill “modest.” Still, many agree it could pave the way for additional energy-efficiency legislation in the near future.

“I certainly wouldn’t call it groundbreaking legislation, but it’s a first step at a time when, especially over the past few years, it doesn’t seem like anything is moving in Washington,” Melchi said. “I think Senators Shaheen and Portman had the best intentions. There were obviously things in the original Shaheen-Portman bill that we weren’t necessarily pleased with, and, over the course of time — and with others voicing similar objections — the bill was watered down to the point where it was passable. The Tenant Star program is something worth following, but, as far as comparing it with some of the regulatory activities distributors and the industry are facing, this is not likely to have the impact. But, it’s a positive start and should be applauded.”

For more information on the Energy Efficiency Investment Act of 2015, visit http://bit.ly/SB535.

Publication date: 5/11/2015

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