“Better Buildings” Bill Introduced to Promote Energy Efficiency for Owners and Tenants

Rep Peter Welch and David McKinley
Congressmen David McKinley (left) and Peter Welch (right).

Reps. David McKinley (R-WV) and Peter Welch (D-VT) introduced bipartisan legislation on May 23 that would facilitate landlord and tenant cooperation toward improved energy efficiency in commercial buildings. H.R. 2126, known as the Better Buildings Act of 2013, was assigned to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Previous bills concerning building energy consumption have sought to lower energy consumption by facilities as a whole. Yet large building owners and managers estimate that tenants are responsible for 50% or more of a structure’s energy consumption. The Better Buildings bill recognizes the significant role that occupants can play in increasing energy efficiency through both workspace configuration and tenant behavior. Notably, structural improvements occur most often when commercial tenants commit to new or renewed leases. This offers a window of opportunity for high-performance design and construction, especially when tenants and landlords work together. The Act would call upon the Department of Energy (DOE) to study private sector best practices for designing and outfitting energy efficient tenant spaces with reasonable payback periods in relation to length of leases. In recognition that the federal government is the nation’s largest commercial office tenant, the bill asks the GSA to develop model leasing provisions to encourage landlord-tenant cooperation and save taxpayer dollars.

Under the Better Building Act, the DOE study could lead to the creation of a voluntary “Tenant Star” program similar to the Energy Star program that certifies whole buildings for energy efficiency. Managed by the EPA, the Energy Star program is a public-private partnership initiated in 1999. Imperfections in the policy complicate Energy Star implementation by the GSA, as discussed here last year. But by 2012, the non-regulatory approach had resulted in more than 20,000 Energy Star certified buildings in the U.S. and an estimated $2.7 billion in annual utility bill savings. Tenant Star certified spaces, like Energy Star certified buildings, would attract more tenants and investors while highlighting the benefits of energy efficiency for all.

The bill’s co-sponsors, Reps. McKinley and Welch, also co-chair the High-Performance Building Caucus. They also joined forces to spur energy efficiency investments in residential buildings by introducing the Home Owner Managing Energy Savings Act of 2012 (HOMES). HOMES would provide financial incentives for energy efficiency improvements by homeowners, authorizing rebates for home renovations in proportion to the amount of conservation achieved. If enacted, the legislation would require the DOE to establish a Home Energy Retrofit Rebate Program to process rebate claims and assure quality control.

Cooperating on bipartisan energy efficiency legislation appeals to both congressmen. After introducing the Better Buildings Act, Congressman Welch said, “In an era of partisan gridlock, energy efficiency is a practical, common sense idea where Democrats and Republicans can find common ground.” Rep. McKinley, a civil engineer, said, “Financial incentive transcends political ideology. Not only is this good for the environment but it will save money in the end.”