Comprehensive Senate Energy Efficiency Bill Resurrects National Model Energy Code

     Contributions to this post were made by Eli Wolfe, 2011 Cozen O'Connor Summer Associate.

     On May 12, 2011 the Energy Savings & Industrial Competitiveness Act (ESICA) of 2011 was introduced by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D. N.H.) and Rob Portman (R. OH). The Act creates a national strategy to increase use of energy efficiency technologies through a national model energy code, enhanced appliance standards, DOE loan guarantees for energy efficiency projects and a variety of other initiatives.  A summary of the bill is available here, and the bill itself is downloadable here.

    As I predicted here, ESICA resurrects the concept of a national model energy code which was first intorduced as part of Waxman-Markey (cap-and-trade).  Pursuant to ESICA, the DOE would essentially establish and regularly update national model building energy codes for residential and commercial buildings from baselines of the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2010. The DOE would establish goals of zero-net-energy for new residential and commercial buildings by 2030. Energy savings targets would be set at the maximum level of energy efficiency that is technologically feasible and life-cycle cost effective, taking into account economic considerations.

   Within one year of any revisions to the IECC or ASHRAE Standard 90.1, the DOE would be directed to determine whether the revisions improve energy efficiency and meet the targets. If so, then the revisions would be established as the national model building energy code. If not, the DOE would recommend changes to improve the codes to meet the target, and IECC or ASHRAE would have 180 days to incorporate changes to meet the targets. If the revision still did not meet the target, then the DOE would establish a modified national model building code that does, based on the latest edition of the IECC or ASHRAE Standard 90.1.

     Within 2 years of the establishment of a national model building energy code, states would be required to certify whether they have updated their codes. Within 3 years of certification, the state would certify whether or not they either:

1. Achieved compliance: at least 90% of building space covered by the code substantially meets code requirements, or excess energy use for non-compliant buildings is not greater than 5% of energy use of all covered buildings; or
2. Made significant progress: the state has developed and is implementing a plan for achieving compliance within 8-years of enactment, and is meeting compliance targets under the plan.

   If a state does not meet the requirements, it must submit a report to the DOE explaining the status of the state’s efforts to reach compliance and a plan to do so. In states out of conformance, localities would be allowed to meet the certification requirements themselves. Conformance to this section may be required by the DOE as a prerequisite for grants or other support for code adoption/compliance activities. The DOE would provide technical assistance and incentive funding to states on building energy codes, and additional funding would be provided by the DOE to states or local governments in conformance to improve compliance. Up to $750,000 per state could be used to train state and local building code officials.

   The ESICA concept builds on the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act model which tied funding to updating building codes, and the 2005 energy bill requirements that DOE evaluate model energy codes, and that states demonstrate that the provisions of its commercial building code regarding energy efficiency meet or exceed the DOE approved standard.

   The question I am pondering is whether a national model code tied to net-zero construction has a hope of seeing the light of day, or are the barriers too great?

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