Congress wraps up with a flurry of activity affecting energy efficiency

By Steven Nadel, Executive Director of ACEEE

Over the weekend the 113th Congress largely wrapped up its work. It looks like this Congress will pass just over 200 bills, the lowest number since World War II. However, before leaving home for the holidays, Congress took action on several bills that will affect energy efficiency:

Congress appropriated money for the rest of the 2015 fiscal year for most federal departments. Included was $1.93 billion for the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, an increase of nearly $25 million from the previous year. The advanced manufacturing office and weatherization assistance programs received increases of 11% and 9%, respectively, while the buildings, vehicles, and federal energy management programs received small cuts.

Energy efficiency tax incentives will be extended for another year. The tax extenders package includes provisions on energy-efficient commercial buildings, new homes, and various residential energy-efficiency retrofits (e.g. heating, cooling and water heating systems, insulation, and windows).
These provisions all expired in Dec. 31, 2013 and the provision extends through Dec. 31, 2014, allowing these credits to be claimed in 2014.

The Senate proposed updating some of the qualification levels, but the House decided to keep the current qualification levels. The Senate is expected to accept the House bill. Information about these credits can be found at energytaxincentives.org. The new Congress will have to decide whether to extend these again to cover 2015.

The Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2014 came close but was not enacted. This bill was introduced by Representatives Welch (D-VT) and McKinley (R-WV) and passed the House of Representatives earlier this year.

The Senate version was sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) and includes four provisions from their more comprehensive energy efficiency bill. The Senate sought unanimous consent to enact the bill but a few conservative senators objected and thus the bill will need to be reintroduced next year.

The bill promotes energy efficiency in rental property, promotes commercial building energy-use benchmarking and disclosure, adjusts efficiency standards for “grid-connected” water heaters, and promotes energy efficiency in federal data centers. ACEEE led work on the benchmarking and disclosure provision and played a substantial role in several of the other provisions.

Overall, a disappointing two years for Congress. Hopefully, the 114th Congress that convenes in January can accomplish much more.

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