“Building Star” Proposed in Senate: $6B for Retrofits of Larger Building

Home Star, the White House-backed plan to provide billions of dollars in incentives for home energy retrofits, now has a sibling — this one focused on larger buildings. Two U.S. senators introduced a bill yesterday that would provide up to $6 billion in rebates and tax incentives for a broad range of energy-saving features added to existing commercial and multi-family buildings.

The bill, dubbed “Building Star” and  playing off the name of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program, would cover about 30 percent of the cost of energy-related equipment and services including energy audits, building envelope insulation, mechanical equipment upgrades, lighting and energy management and monitoring equipment. If passed, the program is expected to save building owners more than $3 billion on their energy bills annually by reducing enough peak electricity demand to avoid the need for nearly three dozen 300 MW power plants, according to a statement by Sen. Jeff Merkley, a cosponsor of the bill.

Buildings account for about 40 percent of total U.S. energy use, with the commercial sector, such as office, retail and healthcare facilities, making up 18 percent of the total.

While the energy-saving portion of the proposal will resonate with some, the bill’s supporters appear to be largely focused on its ability to stimulate job creation. The Energy Future Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that was heavily involved in Building Star’s drafting, says it would create at least 125,000 jobs (see this 13-page white paper by the coalition for a more detailed look at the Building Star proposal). Much of that work would be for the construction industry, which has taken a particularly tough beating in the economic downturn. The coalition estimates the program would spur $15 billion-$20 billion in market activity.

Patrick Hughes, a spokesman for the Energy Future Coalition, said Building Star could get wrapped in with the Home Star bill, which Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman said earlier this week he wants to move quickly to launch. President Obama, who has called saving money through energy efficiency “sexy,” touted Home Star program in a speech on Tuesday.

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