Department of Energy Secretary-designee Rick Perry testified during his confirmation hearing last week that he favors the department’s efforts to drive energy efficiency in buildings, according to Door & Window Market Magazine.
The story says that Perry pledged to help legislation, known both as the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act and the Shaheen-Portman bill. That’s good news for energy efficiency proponents. The story says that the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) conducted a study that predicts that by 2030, the bill – if it is passed into law — could create 190,000 jobs, save consumers $16.2 billion annually and drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
It also, according to the story, would be good news for code advocates:
Shaheen-Portman would strengthen national model building codes to make new homes and commercial buildings more energy efficient. It would also help states and private industries make the code-writing process more transparent, and train the next generation of workers in energy-efficient commercial building design. Additionally, it would let federal agencies use existing funds to use the most current efficiency standards in new federal buildings.
Energy and building codes are the tools by which goals set by federal, state and localities are carried out. According to a post by Maureen Guttman, President of the Building Codes Assistant at Green Builder, the most recent round of code creation resulted in more or less a maintenance of the status quo. This, the piece suggests, was due to “energy code fatigue” because of the difficulty of implementing ambitious code changes. Writes Guttman:
Given the net sum of the gains and losses of the 2018 code development process, Guttman concluded that homeowners and environment were the decisive losers. “The current code simply isn’t changing fast enough to get us anywhere near to our climate goals,” she asserts. “Codes are developed and adopted mainly with the bottom line in mind, not sustainability. To get to net zero, we need to move away from a state by state adoption and get to a national code development process. If we can’t do this, then we need to start exploring other tools and drivers.”
Perry’s testimony clearly was good news for energy efficiency advocates. The bottom line, however, is that much of what happens in Washington may not have much impact at the local level:
The vast majority of policies that could affect green building, from incentives to energy codes to building codes, is set at the local level, according to Russel Unger, the executive director of the Urban Green Council in New York. “When you drill down to any individual city, whoever’s in federal office doesn’t affect the industry that much,” he says. “There’s tremendous innovation going on, and a lot is driven just because the market and owners want to make a better building than the last one, and [this innovating] is grounded by a suite of local laws and state programs.”
Energy and building codes set the baselines for energy efficiency that municipalities and states can choose to follow or build upon. It remains to be seen if Perry is lives up to his testimony – and whether it matters either way.