U.S. reps waylay energy performance standards

Friday, December 4, 2015

Emergent legislation would give U.S. political officials flexibility to override proposed updates to the ASHRAE 90.1 standard for energy performance in buildings. The North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act, which was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, Dec. 3., would also allow a pullback of appliance/equipment efficiency standards and thwart energy-saving initiatives with a payback period longer than 10 years.

Measures related to energy conservation are found within a sweeping piece of legislation that addresses energy resources, generation and transmission resiliency, and adoption of new technology. Energy efficiency proponents note that there are many commendable elements in the legislation along with what a statement from ASHRAE characterizes as “harmful building energy codes language”.

“The legislation seeks to update and modernize outdated policies rooted in an era of energy scarcity to reflect today’s era of energy abundance and make our energy infrastructure more resilient and create jobs,” asserts Representative Fred Upton, chair of the Energy & Commerce Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the sponsor of the Act.

For example, the Act would promote smart grid technology and the Internet of Things “to provide real-time actionable analytics and enable predictive maintenance and asset management to improve energy efficiency wherever feasible”. However, it would repeal a number of U.S. studies and programs, including: the national action plan for demand response; energy auditor training and certification; the procurement and identification of energy-efficient products program; the electric utility conservation program; and the survey of energy-saving potential.

In outlining the economic parameters for establishing and revising energy savings targets, the Act states: “the Secretary (of Energy) shall consider the economic feasibility of achieving the proposed targets and the potential costs and savings for consumers and building owners by conducting a return on investment analysis, using a simple payback methodology over a 3-, 5- and 7-year period. The Secretary shall not propose or provide technical or financial assistance for any code, provision in the code, or energy target or amendment thereto that has a payback greater than 10 years.”

This could have consequences for many energy performance standards. Notably, the Act establishes the 2010 version of the ASHRAE 90.1 standard as the baseline for commercial building energy performance, to which any proposed revisions to the model building codes would be compared.

The new legislation would allow the Secretary of Energy to reject future updates of ASHRAE 90.1 (or the International Energy Conservation Code pertaining to low-rise residential buildings) if they are deemed “not technically feasible” or “not cost-effective.” The Secretary could then propose alternative requirements to replace those rejected.

In responding to the House of Representatives’ endorsement of the legislation, ASHRAE raised concerns about potential loss of technical support and backing from the Department of Energy. However, the legislation will have to gain approval from the U.S. Senate and President Barack Obama before it can become law.

“ASHRAE remains hopeful that Congress will ultimately demonstrate its support for market-driven energy efficiency by enacting legislation that protects the development, adoption and implementation of private sector-led, consensus-based model building energy codes,” says David Underwood, the president of ASHRAE.

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