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There's been a lot of talk about various green building provisions in the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (HR 2454 or "ACES"), but there's one specific section of ACES that deserves more attention.  Section 204 needs to be included in the green building discussion, because this is where the Building Energy Performance Labeling Program is.  With this program, as we predicted with our Seven Green Trends, the federal government could lay the foundation for true and legitimate building environmental impact labels.  Let's talk about this unprecedented policy, with a little background discussion. 

Across the Pond:


In the last couple years, England and Wales started using Energy Performance Certificates pursuant to EU Directive 2002/91/EC.  As you can see above, the EPC has an A to G scale with a snapshot of information.  The label provides both energy and environmental impact information, together with the building's current rating.  The EPC also provides a potential rating, which is subject to the owner making recommended improvements.  The improvements aren't required and the inspection costs roughly $200.

In addition, buildings of a certain size are required to hang Display Energy Certificates to show the public how energy efficient (or non energy efficient) their building is.  The program caused quite a stir — the Times Online said it's a "naming and shaming tactic" — but with the EPCs, there's a legitimate attempt to provide transparency as to a building's energy performance and environmental impact.  The UK's experience with EPCs and DECs is worth monitoring as the U.S. Building Energy Performance Labeling Program grows. 

Keeping Austin Weird:


Relatedly, cities in the U.S., including San Francisco and Berkeley, California, are starting their own audit/label related programs.  The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the new energy audit ordinance in Austin, Texas.  According to the ordinance, if a home is more than ten (10) years old, the owner is required to obtained an energy audit and provide the information to potential buyers. 

Although Austin is probably the greenest city in Texas, the WSJ article points to some commentary indicating that some people — ahem, sellers! — don't like the new law.  They don't want to give buyers information that might drive the price of their home down.  I wonder if the seller ever stopped to think about what the buyer might want to know about their future home?  Regardless, Austin's experience is also worth watching as the U.S. Building Energy Performance Labeling Program gets started. 

Section 204, ACES in the Hole:


The text of the Building Energy Performance Labeling Program starts on page 264 of the newest iteration of HR 2454.  Section 204 is only about sixteen pages of text, and I recommend reading it, because this information will start to trickle through states and down to the local level after/when ACES becomes law.  Here are some of the main takeaways from my initial reading:

  • The Administrator of the EPA shall create the labeling program to apply to both the residential and commercial markets. 
  • The purpose of the labeling program is two-fold: (1) to enable and encourage knowledge about building energy performance of both owners and occupants, and (2) to inform efforts to reduce energy consumption nationwide. 
  • The Administrator is to consider already existing programs, such as Energy Star and the HERS index, while developing a model label. 
  • The Administrator will create a report telling Congress which building types have measurement protocols and labeling requirements with energy performance data (and which don't). 
  • The Administrator is to propose measurement protocols and detail how to complete performance labels.
  • The Administrator will provide a final rule detailing measurement protocols and requirements for applying the protocols. 
  • The Administrator shall propose a model building energy label within one year after the date of enactment, and the label will show achieved performance (and, interestingly, will not preclude designed performance data).  
  • The Administrator will then publish a final rule containing the label applicable to covered projects. 
  • The Administrator will coordinate with Zero Net Energy Commercial Buildings Initiative to provide labeling demonstration projects for all sorts of different building types. 
  • The Administrator will work with state energy offices or other state authorities to implement the program, and will also work with these officials to encourage use of the labeling program at the local and county level. 
  • States are to implement the label in such a way that the information is available to owners, lenders, tenants, occupants, or other relevant parties that can utilize the information.
  • Three years after the date of enactment, the Administrator will report to Congress on the effectiveness of the program and the need for any legislative changes. 
  • The Secretary of Energy and the Administrator will use the program in their agencies and try to get other agencies to implement the label. 

Here's the gist: if HR 2454 passes with Section 204 as is, we'll start seeing major movement on building energy performance labels within about a year or two thereafter.  With building energy performance labels, stakeholders will be able to obtain otherwise unavailable information and efficiency will somehow become valuable.  When efficiency becomes valuable, there will be vast market change and the label, I believe, will then expand to include other environmental considerations.  Let's watch this space …

[+] HR 2454 Waxman-Markey Amendment

Top photo credit: Energy Conserving Newark Center.