Category: News

Virginia building code update hits a wall, and no one’s sure why

A proposed update to Virginia’s residential building code has been held up in administrative limbo despite a consensus from homebuilders and energy efficiency advocates.

Virginia homebuilders and energy efficiency advocates reached an agreement late last year on an overdue update to the state’s residential building code.

What happened next has frustrated advocates who had hoped to celebrate the state’s first residential code update this year in almost half a decade.

Weeks after a citizen board forwarded the proposal to Gov. Ralph Northam’s office, the rules remain held up in administrative limbo, and it’s unclear why. The governor’s  office hasn’t published the proposed changes in the Virginia Register, which would start a necessary public comment period.

Meanwhile, state fire safety officials oppose the changes, though it’s unclear whether their position is a factor in the delay at the governor’s office. A spokesman for the governor would only say the rules are “under review.”

The residential building code, which sets minimum efficiency standards for heating, cooling and lighting in newly constructed homes, haven’t been updated in Virginia since 2014, when the state adopted a residential code comparable to a national model code. New homes in the state cost more to heat, cool, and light than similar homes in states with more recent codes.

The recommended changes were compiled by a citizen board empowered by state law to advise the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Governors and state agencies typically adopt citizen boards recommendations verbatim because of their consensus-building processes.

Among the changes would be new requirements to test indoor air quality, conduct mechanical tests of heating and cooling ducts, and use the government ResCheck system as a compliance option for efficiency ratings.

“We were able to get these things through on a compromise,” said Chelsea Harnish, executive director of the Virginia Energy Efficiency Council (VAEEC). “Since then, the regulation has been stalled. We’re very frustrated. New homes won’t reap the benefits of the efficiency gains we were able to achieve.”

Read more. 

VAEEC Statement on Energy Efficiency Provisions of Dominion “Rate Freeze” Bill

Contact: Chelsea Harnish

804.457.8619

chelsea@vaeec.org

Richmond, Virginia – Today the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee reported SB 966, sponsored by Senators Frank Wagner and Richard Saslaw, by a vote of 10:4 to the full Senate Chamber.

The bill often referred to as the Dominion Rate Freeze Repeal bill, includes important funding and programmatic provisions that favor energy efficiency.

The following is a statement by Chelsea Harnish, Executive Director of the Virginia Energy Efficiency Council (VAEEC):

“Throughout the process, VAEEC has advocated that any portion of over-earnings that the utilities are allowed to keep should be used to fund energy efficiency programs. We applaud the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee for passing legislation that provides significant energy efficiency gains for Virginia consumers.

“Energy efficiency is one of the easiest, most direct ways to help a vast number of customers lower their electricity bills this year and for years to come.

“Whenever Virginia takes a step to advance energy efficiency, ratepayers win with lower monthly energy costs. Businesses win with lower operating costs. Companies and the economy win with more jobs and economic activity. And we all win with cleaner air and protecting natural resources.

“While other aspects of this legislation have stirred controversy, support for Virginia to do more on the energy efficiency front has been strong and unwavering. Passage of this legislation underscores the widespread, bipartisan agreement that energy efficiency is a smart investment for the Commonwealth and for consumers.

VAEEC specifically applauds the following components of the bill:

  • States that a utility energy efficiency program is in the public interest if it passes three of four cost-benefit tests, effectively removing the burdensome hurdle of the “RIM Test”
  • Provides for the development of an independent stakeholder process to receive input on energy efficiency program design and implementation
  • Commits Dominion Energy to spending $1B in energy efficiency spending over 10 years. This includes $870M in regulated programs (at least 5% of which will be for low-income households) and $6M/year for Energy Share Weatherization, doubling the current level, which will be funded entirely by shareholders.
  • Commits Appalachian Power Company to spending $140 million over 10 years for energy efficiency programs for their customers

Just last fall the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) ranked Virginia 29th on the State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, but named us one of a handful of ‘Most Improved States.’ In doing so, it said the following: ‘However the state has significant room to strengthen efficiency programs and policies in the utility sector…. Virginia could also work to streamline the process by which utilities evaluate, measure, and verify energy savings which may help utilities to develop efficiency programs with more comprehensive measures. To keep costs low for all Virginia consumers, utilities could design programs that better meet the needs of large customers.’”

About VAEEC

The Virginia Energy Efficiency Council is the voice for the energy efficiency industry in the Commonwealth. Our members include Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, universities, nonprofits, local governments, state agencies, utilities, and individuals. The Council’s goal is to ensure energy efficiency is recognized as an integral part of Virginia’s economy and clean energy future. As a 501c3 organization based in Richmond, the VAEEC provides a platform for stakeholder engagement while assessing and supporting programs, innovation, best practices, and policies that advance energy efficiency in Virginia. Together we are creating, implementing, and sharing energy efficiency solutions that keep costs down for residents and businesses, while improving the quality of life in our work and home environments.  Our May 2017 report, “Why Energy Efficiency is a Smart Investment for Virginia”, found that energy efficiency is a $1.5B industry in Virginia that supports 75,000 jobs. www.vaeec.org @SmartEnergyVA

U.S. cities most menaced by climate change are least energy-efficient

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Miami and other U.S. cities most at risk from disasters exacerbated by global warming are also among those whose high energy consumption is fuelling temperature rise, data from clean-energy company Arcadia Power showed on Tuesday.

The coastal city of Miami, battered last year by Hurricane Irma, was the least energy-efficient in a sample of 15 cities, with its monthly energy consumption 25 percent above the national average, the data showed.

Such cities are “shooting themselves in the foot” because their immoderate energy consumption emits avoidable greenhouse gases that are heating up the planet and causing climate change, said a statement from Arcadia.

The Florida city averaged energy consumption per household of 1,125 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month, far exceeding the 2016 national average of 897 kWh.

Read more. 

What the tax bill may mean for energy efficiency

Although the tax bill passed by Congress today will bring the largest changes to taxes (and government revenue) seen in decades, we don’t expect the bill to have such a dramatic impact on energy efficiency.

The greatest impacts, both positive and negative, will likely come from the broad changes to tax and revenue. Some companies and families will have more money to spend on efficiency improvements (or on energy-using activities) as a result of the tax cuts; others will have less. The deduction for state and local taxes will be capped, which could make it more difficult for state and local governments to invest taxpayer dollars in efficiency upgrades and programs. Federal deficits will go up, which could increase pressures to cut agency spending, including on efficiency programs.

In addition, two specific provisions will have a relatively direct impact on energy efficiency investments, also both good and bad:

  • The bill eliminates one type of support for state and local energy efficiency and clean energy projects by ending authority for new tax credit bonds, including Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds (QECBs), effective January 1. QECBs are state and local bonds subsidized by the federal government that finance energy efficiency improvements to public buildings, green community programs, mass commuting, and certain renewables projects. As of May, $1.3 billion in QECBs had been issued, but $1.9 billion in additional authority remained.
  • It also expands business expensing by raising the cap on deductible business investments to $1 million, and makes HVAC equipment and roofs installed in commercial buildings eligible. Although businesses depreciate, or capitalize, most investments over a number of years, they can expense investments including computers and equipment—and now HVAC systems and roofs—up to the cap, deducting the full cost from taxable income in the first year. Unlike in the earlier House-passed bill, there is no efficiency requirement, but the new equipment and roofs will generally be more efficient.

Read more (ACEEE)

2017: The Year Virginia Fought Back

While Virginia’s state legislature hangs in the balance, one outcome is clear for 2017: this is the year Virginia jumped into the race for a cleaner energy future.

The year started badly, as the Trump Administration pushed a climate-wrecking, fossil-fuel agenda that threatened to intensify climate change and the sea level rise that imperils Virginia’s coast line. But Governor McAuliffe’s last year in office proved to be a big first year for climate action in Virginia.

For the first time, Virginia made the big move to reduce carbon emissions from its power sector, 30 percent by 2030, a strong response to the federal government’s failure to recognize reality—climate change is here and already hurting communities, and smart clean energy investments are the way to move forward.

Read more (NRDC)

Addressing the Cost of Home Heating for Working Families

For more than a third of American earners, paying monthly bills is a challenge. For some – nearly a fifth of American residents – that struggle can include choosing which essential commodity to go without during peak usage periods: Food, medications or the electricity to power and heat their homes.

According to a 2016 report put out by the nonprofit Groundswell, the bottom 20 percent of the country’s earners commit almost 10 percent of their monthly earnings to paying their power bill. That can be a substantial hit to the pocketbook for struggling families or retired couples that have other costs like school, transportation and added medical expenses to factor into the monthly take-home pay.

Rising power rates also cost poor communities more than middle- or upper-income earners, Groundswell points out, because they usually can’t afford the newer homes on the market that use less power and are better insulated.

Read more (Triple Pundit)

2017 Progress Toward Climate Goals: Efficient Buildings

The momentum toward energy efficient buildings is transcending the harsh political climate in Washington in 2017, occurring primarily at the state and city levels in the U.S., at the level of nonprofit organizations, and in other countries that are the fastest-growing source of climate pollution.

Locally initiated policies for improved building efficiency have always driven the bulk of activity at the national level, both in the U.S. and in countries such as Russia. With the ratification of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which calls for the world to pursue action to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees, we see that one of the most important ways to stabilize climate is by fixing existing buildings—both their structure and their operations, and many of the activities in 2017 set up the infrastructure for doing just that.

Read more (NRDC)

Q&A: Chicago sustainability officer leads charge on building efficiency

It’s an interesting time for energy in Chicago: Coal plants providing power to the city have been shuttered. Massive programs are underway to retrofit old buildings. Smart streetlights and electric buses will soon transform neighborhoods.

Chris Wheat, the city’s chief sustainability officer, is at the center of it all.

Previously a member of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s innovation team, Wheat was tapped as the sustainability chief after the departure of Karen Weigert in February 2016. He’s long championed the use of data and analytics to help manage city government, and he’s now tasked with applying that to the city’s ambitious sustainability plans.

Wheat led the Retrofit Chicago Residential Partnership, a program to advance efficiency for residential properties. The initiative won the Energy Star Partner of the Year Award from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy for promoting efficiency measures in 2017.

Read more (Midwestern Energy News)

Meet the microgrid, the technology poised to transform electricity

If we want a livable climate for future generations, we need to slow, stop, and reverse the rise in global temperatures. To do that, we need to stop burning fossil fuels for energy.

To do that, we need to generate lots of carbon-free electricity and get as many of our energy uses as possible (including transportation and industry) hooked up to the electricity grid. Electrify everything!

We need a greener grid. But that’s not all.

The highly digital modern world also demands a more reliable grid, capable of providing high-quality power to facilities like hospitals or data centers, where even brief brownouts can cost money or lives.

The renewable energy sources with the most potential — wind and solar — are variable, which means that they come and go on nature’s schedule, not ours. They ramp up and down with the weather, so integrating them into the grid while maintaining (and improving) reliability means finding clever ways to balance out their swings.

Read more (Vox)

In Push for 100% Renewable Energy, Efficiency Is Key

Enter the search term “100% renewable energy” into Google and you will find fierce debate. Is the possibility of 100-percent-renewable energy a myth? Or is the world already close to achieving this goal?

This debate tends to underemphasize energy efficiency. But recent research makes a case that energy efficiency is important in any discussion about 100-percent-renewable energy.

In August 2017, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) published a working paper, “Synergies between Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency.” IRENA finds that energy efficiency can enable a more rapid shift to renewable energy in all countries and sectors.

Our Renewable Future: Laying the Path for One Hundred Percent Clean Energy,” a 2016 book by Post-Carbon Institute fellows Richard Heinberg and David Fridley, makes a similar argument for holistic energy planning that considers energy efficiency and citizen buy-in.

To approach any 100-percent-renewable energy scenario, improved energy efficiency is needed in both energy-supply sectors and energy-consumption sectors. More than 60 percent of energy produced in the United States in 2016 across all sectors was wasted, according to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, so there is plenty of room for improvement.

Read more (Clean Energy Finance Forum)

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