Tuesday, April 24, 2007

New Senate Bill Aims at Reducing American Energy Consumption

Senate Bill Targets More Than $12 Billion in Efficiency Savings in Transportation, Lighting, Appliances and Buildings

U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici introduced legislation last week to reduce our nation's use of fossil fuels by improving efficiency in vehicles, buildings, home appliances and industrial equipment - saving consumers more than $12 billion annually. Bingaman and Domenici are chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

According to a press release, Senate Bill 1115 (S.1115), called the Energy Efficiency Promotion Act, would save at least 50 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year, or enough energy to power 4.8 million U.S. households. It also would save 170 million therms of natural gas per year, or enough to heat about 750,000 U.S. homes and targets a 45% reduction in gasoline consumption.

"The Energy Efficiency Promotion Act will reduce consumers' future energy bills by getting more from the energy we produce," Bingaman said. "High energy prices and the threat of global warming are very much on Congress's agenda this year. This bill is an effective step toward addressing both problems."

"This bill is part of a broader attempt by our committee to provide incentives that will encourage Americans to embrace more energy efficient homes and businesses," Domenici said. "Our bill will allow consumers to save money by reducing energy usage. We think the federal government can set an example by improving the energy efficiency of its own facilities."


The bill sets the goal of reducing gasoline usage by 20% by 2017; by 35% by 2025; and by 45% by 2030.

The bill also includes a number of specific provisions designed to accelerate the development and deployment of efficient vehicle technologies, including advanced battery development for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The other transportation measures of the bill include:

  • Authorization of $60 million for the Department of Energy to research and develop light-weight materials such as advanced carbon composites and light-weight steel alloys for the construction of vehicles.

  • Amendment of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to authorize the Secretary of Energy to issue loan guarantees for facilities for the manufacture of parts for fuel-efficient vehicles.

  • Authorization of federal awards to manufacturers and suppliers for 30% of qualified investment for incremental costs incurred to re-equip, expand or establish a manufacturing facility to produce advanced technology vehicles.

  • Authorization for an R&D program for electric drive transportation technology, including "plug-in hybrid electric vehicles".

  • Authorization of $500 million over 10 years for basic research for batteries, and $800 million to transition the basic research to first-of-a-kind batteries the automobile and electric utility industries can use to improve energy storage.

  • Authorization of $1 billion over ten years for four centers to work with the industries to develop advanced manufacturing technologies for batteries to be globally competitive.

  • Appliance Efficiency Standards

    The bill also expedites new energy efficiency standards for appliances by enacting into law efficiency standards developed by the Department of Energy for residential boilers, dishwashers, clothes washers, refrigerators and dehumidifiers, and electric motors. It also provides the Department of Energy with expedited rulemaking authority and increased flexibility to issue new energy efficiency standards in the future.

    Federal Leadership in Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

    The Energy Efficiency Promotion Act is also designed to make the federal government a leader in energy efficiency and renewable energy use, using the purchasing power of the federal government to drive markets forward.

    The legislation sets the following goals, targets and programs for federal government energy use in fleets and buildings:

  • Promotes advanced lighting technologies by accelerating the use of efficient lighting in federal buildings. The bill authorizes a $10 million 'Bright Tomorrow Lighting' program to replace the 60 watt incandescent light bulb, and a $5 million award for replacing flood lights in federal buildings with more efficient lighting. Once sufficient advancements in lighting technology are made, the federal government will require the use of these light bulbs in federal buildings.

  • Requires the federal government, including the Capitol Complex, to increase its purchases of renewable electricity to 10 percent by 2010 and 15 percent by 2015.

  • Requires a 30 percent reduction in energy consumption in existing federal buildings by 2015 and requires new and renovated federal buildings to meet standards for reducing fossil fuel consumption, with a goal of eliminating fossil fuel consumption in new buildings by 2030.

  • Permanently authorizes and makes improvements in the federal Energy Savings Performance Contracting program, an initiative that requires all new federal buildings to be built in the most energy efficient way, and energy savings to be applied to improving the efficiency of existing federal buildings.

  • Requires both state and federal government fleets of civilian vehicles to reduce petroleum consumption by 30 percent by 2016.

  • Other Provisions

    The bill includes the following other provisions:

  • Authorizes nationwide media campaign to increase energy efficiency.

  • Assists state and local governments in energy efficiency by reauthorizing the Weatherization Assistance Program and State energy program at $750 million, a $50 million increase over the current authorization.

  • Authorizes a grant program for energy efficiency and innovative energy technology projects at colleges and universities.
  • Authorizes a job training program for workers in the energy efficiency and renewable energy industries.

  • The bill was the subject of a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing yesterday.

    This sounds like a good bill. Targeting a broad range of energy efficiency improvements, this bill is a great step forward in reducing Americans' energy consumption, bringing the corresponding reductions in energy bills, environmental impacts (including global warming pollution) and dependence on imported fuels.

    While the goals for vehicle energy efficiency improvements are simply goals and lack the increased CAFE standards or new 'fee-bate' system that might ensure those goals are realized, it's at least a good first step. More importantly, the appliance efficiency improvements will accrue real savings and the increased focus on energy efficient vehicle technology development is long overdue. It's time to stop throwing money down the bottomless 'hydrogen economy' pit and start focusing on near-term technologies that can greatly improve the efficiency of our vehicle fleet, including advanced battery research to support the deployment of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

    Additionally, the provisions requiring the government to lead the way will have major market transformation effects. The fleet fuel consumption reduction targets alone will help drive the market for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and other efficient vehicle technologies, perhaps as effectively as the increased research and development funding. These reduction targets could drive hundreds of thousands of fleet vehicle purchases of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and other efficient vehicles. The US Postal service alone has over 280,000 vehicles, for example. If that kind of purchasing power committed to efficient vehicles isn't enough to get Detroit off their butt, I don't know what is ...

    ... ok, that's a lie, I do know what would be enough to get them off their butts: implementation of a reformed and increased CAFE standard requiring average fuel economy to hit 40 mpg by 2030. That's the one component that this bill really is missing. A 'fee-bate' system/gas guzzler tax would also help drive consumer demand for efficient vehicles and support the CAFE requirement. However, there are several other bills that have been introduced proposing increased fuel economy standards, and I wouldn't be surprised if one of them passes this year or the next, perhaps eventually rolled into a bill similar to this one.

    There's a lot of good bills floating around Congress right now that would help get America on a path to a sustainable energy future. It's refreshing to at least see Congress talking about real solutions. Now it's getting time for them to pass something (this fall should be really interesting!)...

    [A hat tip to Green Car Congress]

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