Lately it seems like the majority of BOMA’s advocacy efforts have been devoted to fighting some bad ideas floating around Congress. And there have been a lot of colossally bad ideas to tackle this year (increasing the tax on carried interest and setting impractical and arbitrary energy-efficiency targets in building codes come to mind). So, every now and then, it’s nice when we have the opportunity to proactively support an idea that has merit, would help create jobs and stimulate the economy, and provides a direct benefit to commercial real estate’s efforts to retrofit existing buildings.
The Push for Building STAR
BOMA has been actively working with Rebuilding America, a broad-based coalition of labor, business, real estate, utilities, manufacturers, and policy groups, to promote the Building STAR program. Like Home STAR, which has been widely touted (and dubbed "Cash for Caulkers") by President Obama as a great way to create jobs by providing rebates to home owners for energy-efficiency retrofits, Building STAR is its commercial and multi-family counterpart.
In March, Senator Merkley (D-OR) introduced S 3079 (Building STAR Energy Efficiency Act of 2010). Five other Democrats joined him as original cosponsors. As of press time, Representative Welch (D-VT) is expected to introduce the companion bill in the House; S 3079 would authorize a two-year, $6 billion program. The program would provide rebates for energy-efficiency retrofits to existing buildings and create a loan program to make grants to states to support financial assistance provided by qualified program delivery entities for making energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements.
What BOMA likes most about this program is that it’s designed to be a simple, straightforward, prescriptive rebate plan. It would apply to building envelope insulation, mechanical insulation, windows, window film, doors, low-slope roofing insulation, HVAC equipment, chillers, water heaters, boilers, duct testing and sealing, variable speed drives, lighting, energy audits, commissioning, energy management and monitoring systems, and training. The rebate process is designed to be as simple as possible. The eligible products and services are clearly defined in the legislation, and a building owner simply submits an application. It’s first come, first served, and building owners would be notified if funds were available for their qualifying project before the work begun. Rebate funds would be deployed once confirmation is received that the work is complete.
Rebuilding America estimates that the legislation would create 150,000 high-quality jobs during the two-year program (many in the construction industry, where 1.7 million people are unemployed). The bill is also expected to leverage $2 to $3 in private investment for every federal dollar spent. For this reason, and due to the short-term nature of the rebate program, advocates hope the Building STAR program will be included in the energy jobs creation bill anticipated in early summer.
Getting the STAR to Shine
Sounds good, right? (This is where the bad news creeps in.) Despite widespread support from both parties of the concept of putting people to work while helping to achieve energy-efficiency goals and assisting the commercial real estate industry, passage of this legislation will be an uphill battle. After billions and billions have been appropriated in stimulus and bailout measures, it seems that Congress is realizing it needs to put on the brakes on spending. That was much in evidence when BOMA’s coalition was walking from office to office, looking for Republicans to cosponsor the bill. We repeatedly heard, "What’s the pay-for?" I think I can speak on behalf of our entire coalition when I say we appreciate the federal government not increasing its deficit, and know it can’t continue to bail out every industry in need. However, we also feel that the benefits of this rebate approach are many: putting the construction industry back to work, lowering energy costs for tenants, and delivering energy savings and emissions reduction, to name a few. Also, the resulting economic benefits of job creation (i.e. increased payroll taxes, lower unemployment payouts, trickledown spending, etc.) would help offset its price tag.
And I hope you agree. If so, please contact your representatives. A letter of support can be sent directly from BOMA’s Legislative Action Center at www.boma.org. As it currently stands, the Home STAR program is receiving much broader political support than Building STAR, despite the fact that it has the same deficit spending issues. This is probably due to the fact that politicians up for re-election are more likely to take action to support millions of (presumably voting) homeowners over (presumably non-voting) buildings. Let’s prove to them that buildings do vote by generating as many letters, e-mails, phone calls, and personal visits to our elected representatives as we can!
Karen Penafiel is vice president of advocacy for BOMA International. She can be reached at [email protected].