President Talks About Better Buildings Initiative (UPDATED)

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Taking time out from foreign policy matters, President Obama headed to Pennsylvania to discuss domestic issues and his plan to make America’s commercial buildings more energy and create jobs over the next decade. The President’s plan, entitled Better Buildings Initiative, catalyzes private-sector investment through a series of incentives to upgrade offices, stores, schools and universities, hospitals, and other commercial and municipal buildings.

The new program includes a number of initiatives designed to increase energy efficiency in commercial buildings, including improved tax incentives, more financing opportunities for commercial retrofits, and a training program for commercial building technology workers. The program also includes a “Race to Green” initiative that will offer competitive grants for state and municipal governments that streamline standards, encourage efficiency upgrades and attract private sector investment.

The explicit goals of the plan include achieving a 20% improvement in energy efficiency by 2020, offsetting the cost of electricity by roughly $40 billion per year for businesses and landlords, and saving energy by reforming outdated incentives and challenging the private sector to act. Specific steps include the following:

  • Providing new, workable tax incentives to encourage building efficiency
  • Offering more financing opportunities for commercial retrofits
  • Proposing new competitive grants to states and/or local governments that streamline standards, encourage upgrades and attract private sector investment
  • A pilot program allowing the Department of Energy to guarantee private loans for energy efficiency upgrades at hospitals, schools and other buildings
  • Challenging CEOs and University Presidents to move toward energy efficiency
  • Training the next generation of commercial building technology workers

“For all of those committed to the idea that green buildings can create jobs, save energy, and save money, this is a great day, and the entire green building movement is incredibly grateful for President Obama’s leadership in this critical step forward for America.  It is major steps like these that are necessary to address the challenges facing our environment,” said USGBC President, CEO and Founding Chair Rick Fedrizzi.

“We applaud President Obama’s new energy policy to improve energy efficiency in commercial, multi-family and institutional buildings,” said BOMA International Chair Ray H. Mackey, Jr., RPA, CPM, CCIM, partner and chief operating officer, Stream Realty Partners, L.P. “The initiative includes the critical business incentives, such as the commercial building tax credit and loan guarantees, that are key to meeting the energy efficiency goals of the plan.”

The Better Buildings Initiative dovetails with BOMA International’s long-term commitment to helping building owners and managers reduce energy use by promoting energy management practices through a variety of platforms. In addition to the 7-Point Challenge, BOMA developed the BOMA Energy Efficiency Program (BEEP), an innovative operational excellence program that teaches commercial real estate professionals how to reduce energy consumption and costs with proven no- and low-cost strategies for optimizing equipment, people and practices.

“The five million+ commercial buildings in the U.S. today are, by and large, squandering away precious energy and resources. With policies like the one introduced by the President today, our hospitals, schools, and offices can be turned into structures that will lessen our dependence on fossil fuel, increasing national security,” said Jason Hartke, Vice President of National Policy. “This also frees up those wasted dollars for growth in the private sector and for groceries in America’s households.  We are laser-focused in doing what we can to move this important initiative forward as fast as possible.”

Jared Blum, president of the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA) added, “The Better Buildings Initiative is about taking small steps to reach larger goals. The President’s plan is a serious proposal to deal with this county’s large universe of existing commercial buildings, a large percentage of which were built before any model or national energy codes were adopted.”

A significant opportunity to increase building energy efficiency lies within the commercial roofing sector, where over 50 billion square feet of flat roofs are currently available for retrofit, four billion of which are retrofit each year. If the insulation levels in these commercial roofs are upgraded from their current R-value to the high performance levels embodied in a High R Roof—50% above the minimum required values—annual energy savings would exceed $2 billion.

“The Obama Better Buildings Initiative is an important first step in establishing national policy to drive energy efficiency in the commercial building sector,” said Danny Yu, CEO of Daintree Networks, a provider of a wireless lighting control platform to the commercial and industrial markets. “Energy efficiency within existing buildings should be considered a massive and mostly untapped resource. Adding greater incentives, financing options and a more consolidated approach to strong building regulations helps to solve many of the challenges currently standing in the way of greener facilities. We’re glad to see this emerging support for energy efficiency upgrades like building automation and lighting controls – proven technologies that can cut commercial energy consumption significantly.”

Last year, commercial buildings consumed nearly 20% of all energy in the United States, and improving the efficiency of these buildings can create jobs, stimulate the economy, save money and decrease the nation’s carbon footprint.

The Better Buildings Initiative builds on previous initiatives launched by the President for government and residential buildings, including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the proposed “HOMESTAR” program, which would encourage American families to make energy saving upgrades in their homes.

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