Two upcoming energy bills could jump-start energy efficiency in the United States



This week the Senate returned to Washington after the August recess. One of the first items taken up for debate is the much anticipated energy efficiency bill sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH). This bi-partisan bill (S. 1392) deserves a chance to come before the full Senate, which hasn’t taken up a major energy bill since it passed the Energy Independence and Security Act in 2007.

Energy efficiency is one of the most cost-effective means for reducing energy waste, saving money and reducing harmful pollution associated with the burning of fossil fuels. In the 2012 American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s (ACEEE) International Energy Efficiency Scorecard, the U.S. came in 9th place out of the 12 largest economies in the world. The Scorecard gave the U.S. a score of only 47 points out of a possible 100 points, showing that there is room for improvement.

The Shaheen-Portman bill

The Shaheen-Portman bill would expand the nation’s energy efficiency policies, programs and incentives. It would spur energy saving improvements in building codes, increase industrial efficiency and competitiveness, and expand energy efficiency efforts by federal agencies. A recent ACEEE study estimated that the provisions in Shaheen-Portman could result in more than $13 billion in annual savings by 2030. The same study estimates that implementation of the bill would result in a reduction of more than 530 tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, equivalent to the annual emissions of over 110 million passenger vehicles or 150 coal-fired power plants.

State Energy Race to the Top Initiative

As the Senate starts to consider the Shaheen-Portman bill, they should also bring up the bill to create a State Energy Race to the Top Initiative, sponsored by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Jon Tester (D-MT). This low cost, high impact bill would creating a voluntary competitive grant program for states within the Department of Energy. The aim is to spur policy innovation – involving, say, smart grid development or new building codes — that would increasing energy efficiency at the state level. Warner-Manchin should be added as an amendment to Shaheen-Portman so we have the strongest possible energy bill for our nation moving forward.

The Shaheen-Portman bill, with the addition of the State Energy Race to the Top Initiative, would benefit our nation by reducing energy use, saving consumers money and cutting harmful air pollution. Energy efficiency has strong support from both sides of the aisle, something hard to come by in this Congress, so the Senate should use this opportunity to move forward on these common-sense bills.

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Caroline Paulsen

Caroline Paulsen

Caroline Paulsen, based in Washington, is a policy analyst with EDF's Climate and Air program.

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An equally important measure would be legislation to override the FHFA's ruling against the residential PACE program, for which there is already support in more than 30 states, and which would do more than either of these bills to support new investment in energy efficiency and renewables.

We are developing a PACE program in New Jersey, which initially will only cover commercial, industrial, and major nonprofit properties (see, but we support expanding this to cover residential properties as well. There is also pending legislation in New Jersey expanding PACE to cover water conservation, hurricane-resistant construction, flood proofing, and other forms of resilient construction that increase sustainability and self-sufficiency.

The clean energy sector offers the greatest opportunity for job growth and economic development in the US at this time, and is a larger and longer-lasting growth sector than even the Internet boom of the 1990s. Hopefully it will not be a boom followed by a crash, but any investment in clean energy is a net positive for the country's future.

I invite you investigate the development of PACE programs across the country (see for a comprehensive listing) and support legislation in Washington to make it even broader and stronger.

If there's ever been a bill before Congress that i is both effective and has the support of both Democrats and Republicans alike, is the Shaheen-Portman bill. However, it's not the Senate that worries me when it comes to this bill passing but rather the House with its Tea Party opposition to anything new. That's why Republicans who support this bill need to stress how much this bill will save businesses and taxpaying citizens alike in order for it to pass the House of Representatives.

We need to watch the Shaheen-Portman bill closely since damaging amendments are being introduced.