Cost Savings, Carbon Reduction & Comfort: Congressional Lunch Recap

On Wednesday, June 15, the High Performance Building Coalition held a congressional lunch briefing entitled “Meeting State and Local Demand for High Performance Green Residential and Commercial Buildings” as part of its High-Performance Building Week 2016 program. The event, which featured distinguished speakers from the U.S. House of Representatives and the private sector, covered the vast array of energy efficiency benefits that exist for U.S. consumers and businesses.

Welch & McKinley lead the way on efficiency

Alliance to Save Energy Honorary Board Member Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) provided opening remarks during the event, highlighting the national importance of high-performance buildings in lowering energy bills and reducing carbon emissions. Among his colleagues in Congress, Rep. Welch remarked, the issue of high performance buildings has served as an excellent vehicle for finding common ground on both sides of the aisle within the often partisan energy debate. After recounting a recent trip taken to West Virginia with fellow Alliance Honorary Board Member Rep. David McKinley (R-W. Va.), Rep. Welch outlined a vision for putting unemployed coal miners back to work with high-performance building construction jobs.

An “evergreen” bipartisan tool

Energy efficiency garners broad bipartisan support thanks in large part to its ability to simultaneously lower bills for consumers and decrease carbon emissions. According to the Department of Energy, the Appliance and Equipment Standards Program alone saved American consumers $63 billion on their utility bills in 2015, and helped the US avoid more than 2.6 billion tons of CO2, which is equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions from nearly 543 million automobiles.

Beyond cost savings

However, the reason that most residential homeowners value energy efficiency upgrades may surprise you, according to panelist Kara Saul Rinaldi, who represents the Home Performance Coalition and Efficiency First. She offered the viewpoint that the majority of residential homeowners value the comfort and health benefits of high-performance buildings more than associated energy savings. In other words, families are more attracted to improvements in indoor air quality, temperature control and greater natural lighting – which are all part and parcel of energy efficiency upgrades – than they are by reduced costs or decreased emissions. For commercial building owners, however, energy savings remain the major incentive for upgrading their buildings.

Once in a high-performance building, homeowners nevertheless grow to appreciate their reduced energy bills. Panelist John Barrows, a builder of high performance homes and commercial buildings, agreed that while initially homeowners are drawn to efficiency products for comfort and health, consumers recognize high performance buildings as a superior overall product, and come to value the cost savings on their energy bill.

The path forward for energy efficiency

In short, high-performance buildings represent a bipartisan issue that legislators across the board can embrace in order to reduce costs and lower emissions. Reps. Welch and McKinley are champions of energy efficiency in the U.S. House of Representatives—their leadership was instrumental in the passage of S. 535 in 2015, which remains the only energy legislation enacted into law during the Obama Administration. By understanding the different motivations of residential and commercial building owners in the context of energy efficiency, policymakers and homebuilders alike can better tailor their policies and messaging to each constituency.