Energy savings, energy future

Rob Portman
Our economy is limping along in the weakest economic recovery since the Great Depression. Hiring has not picked up as we all hoped it would, with national unemployment above 8 percent.

My view is that the economy has muddled along because Washington hasn’t addressed fundamental structural challenges that are holding back risk-taking, investment and job creation.

One of these challenges is making sure we have secure, reliable and affordable energy. High fuel prices drive up the costs of producing goods and services, which reduces the resources employers can set aside for hiring.

Production of oil and gas from shale rock in Ohio and across the country has done a lot to stabilize energy costs for manufacturers, as well as create jobs in steel and other affiliated industries. I believe we need a smart national energy policy that includes more production of domestic energy.

But while we produce more, we should also use less. And the smart way to use less is through efficiency.

Energy efficiency is about finding sensible ways to reduce consumption, saving money that instead can go to other more productive investments that create jobs.

But there’s good news: We have commonsense, bipartisan legislation that will reduce barriers for businesses, homeowners and consumers to implement existing energy efficient technologies.

It’s S. 1000, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, which I’ve co-authored with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

S. 1000 cleared the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in July 2011 on a bipartisan, 18-3 basis. In the House of Representatives, there’s now similar legislation, the Smart Energy Act from Reps. Charlie Bass (R-NH) and Jim Matheson (D-UT).

Many companies in Ohio have worked with us on S. 1000. One is Owens Corning in Toledo, which is creating insulation technologies to increase the energy efficiency of buildings.

Another is Johnson Controls, which employs nearly 2,000 Ohioans at many locations across our state. They want to use the new legislation to expand their business making commercial office space more energy efficient. 

S. 1000 imposes no new costs on taxpayers. Instead, it utilizes existing efficiency authorizations at the Department of Energy to create incentives – not federal mandates.

The bill provides new consistency and certainty for updating voluntary building codes. This is needed as buildings now consume 72 percent of the nation’s electricity. By 2030, the savings from more efficient building codes could save $20 billion annually. That’s a lot of money that could go to job-creating investment.

S. 1000 will help manufacturers increase their competitiveness by facilitating upgrades that reduce their energy use, bringing down what’s now reported by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) as a 20 percent premium to do business in the United States.

Our bill also requires the federal government, the biggest single energy user in the country, to increase energy efficiency by adopting power-saving and advanced metering technologies. An additional commonsense provision allows federal agencies to use existing funds to make new federal buildings more energy efficient.

If S. 1000 is enacted, by 2030 energy savings nationwide could equal up to 1.9 quadrillion BTUs, the equivalent of the total energy use of the State of Missouri. Looking at the short term, by 2020 savings could equal 500 trillion BTUs, the equivalent of taking millions of homes off the grid.

In April, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed S. 1000, calling it “a smart, practical, bipartisan bill that would boost competitiveness and create jobs by increasing the adoption of energy efficient technologies.”

Then last month, NAM endorsed the bill, writing that it “would positively impact manufacturing and construction jobs and increase the energy security of the United States by reducing overall energy consumption.”

These two groups have joined about 250 other businesses and associations supporting the bill. All of them see S. 1000 as the one opportunity Congress has to get something big and permanent done this year on energy. That’s why they’re calling on Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to take up this important legislation as soon as possible.

Energy efficiency is a commonsense, bipartisan way to cut our dependency on foreign energy, save money and free up capital to invest in job creation. Let’s move on S. 1000. 

Rob Portman is a United States Senator from Ohio.