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Kateri’s crystal ball mixes good news with bad for energy efficiency under Trump

What does the future hold when Congress doesn’t have an appetite to cut EE, but a president wants to ditch Energy Star?

The EE sector employs 2.2 million people in the U.S., something Trump must think about before gutting programs. Photo: LearnATW Creative Commons

It was refreshing to hear – “Trump is one man and one man only. There are a lot of other things in play and I believe he is getable on these issues.” That was the great opener from the Alliance to Save Energy’s Kateri Callahan as she began her analysis of what’s going on in Washington and what the future holds for energy efficiency.

With that statement she immediately had a captive audience at our Business Forum. While she admitted it can be a tricky business to predict what will happen, she laid out an impressive case for energy efficiency – one she has been lobbying for in Washington since 2004.

Good EE news pre-Trump

First came the good news story. The not-for-profit ASE is celebrating its 40th year and part of that success is thanks to its critical mix of advocates, including policy experts, environmental groups, academics, and business leaders. Notably its board of directors has several high-powered Democratic and Republican politicians including Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Senator Robert Portman.

Since 2012 the ASE has been focussed on its goal to double energy productivity and they’ve been using advisors, members of congress and its board to make this happen, stressing the need to have the voice of business on energy efficiency. The underlying premise: energy efficiency policies drive energy productivity.

One of the most important successes has been EE’s progress to offset energy costs (58 quads of energy are saved annually which equals US$800 million and avoids 2.5 billion tons of CO2). Jobs were another great story. Across the U.S. 2.2 million people are employed in the EE sector, which means one-third of jobs are affiliated with EE. Wisely, the ASE has a map that breaks down the jobs in congressional districts.

Showcasing the economic benefits of doubling energy productivity has been key for the ASE – Callahan illustrated how it translates into saving $US97 million in buildings, US$139 billion in transportation, and US$94 billion in industry. Doubling energy productivity could actually help exceed American Paris commitments. But that would only be possible under the Obama Effect – which Callahan described as EE funding and programs on steroids.

Bad Energy efficiency news under the Trump effect

ASE’s Kateri Callahan discussed active campaigns to save the Energy Star program during CEEA’s Business Forum.

With severe budget cut proposals, or a skinny budget, Callahan laid out what is seriously at risk. The ASE is most concerned about an 18 per cent cut to the DOE and a 31 per cent cut to the EPA. Then there is the possibility of the chopping block for the Energy Star program, the weatherization program, state energy program and ARPA-E, which invests public money to support and develop high-potential energy technologies.

The ASE is running an active campaign to save Energy Star – 800 signatures on a partners letter and a grassroots campaign with over 10,000 letters have been submitted to Congress. Energy Star is the jewel in the crown, it costs US$50 million a year and saves US$31.5 billion on utility bills. There is also hope that Trump may be swayed by letters coming from real estate companies and building owners who are signing letters because as Callahan sees it those are his “peeps”.

On appliance and equipment standards the new rule will be if you want a new regulation you have to get rid of two existing ones. This is not ideal since standards and codes really do make a difference.

But Callahan maintains there may be a glimmer of hope with Rick Perry as the Secretary of Energy. He had aggressive EE policies in Texas where he was governor and he has vowed to protect EE cuts in the budget.

Energy efficiency opportunities new and old

There are some tax incentives that were discontinued and could come back because Trump wants an opportunity to innovate in the arena of tax policy. So perhaps EV tax credits and EE incentives for builders, existing homes and commercial buildings could make a reappearance.

Infrastructure is an area for investment, especially in water and waste water plant and grid modernization. There are also some pro EE bills that are being introduced, one involving efficiency in lighting and the bipartisan Portman-Shaheen EE bill which is being introduced for the third time to Congress.

Kateri’s Crystal Ball for U.S. EE policy

With DC in the grip of gridlock and no sign of improvement Callahan thinks an infrastructure bill or tax bill will be difficult to get. Congress however is not in the mood to cut energy efficiency programs but expect to see budget cutting. Slow staffing of political appointees and push back from business may stop some regulations from being undone. The U.S. may also remain a signatory to the Paris Agreement but with different goals and limits. Finally, as Washington takes a back seat on EE expect states and municipalities to continue the march towards a clean and energy productive economy.

For more on Kateri Callahan’s presentation check out the deck featuring great stats and charts.
And access CEEA’s Business Forum resources on Toronto’s Green Standard, RETScreen Expert software demo, Ontario’s Action on Climate Change and CEEA/IESO’s Engaging Millennials report.

Posted April 26, 2017