Home heating efficiency bill introduced in US Senate

By Luke Geiver | December 08, 2011

If a recently introduced piece of energy efficiency legislation sent to Congress by three Senators passes, U.S. homeowners may soon see reduced energy bills.

The Cut Energy Bills at Home Act, introduced with bipartisan support by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., would give homeowners up to a 30 percent tax credit for increasing home energy efficiency.

The bill is all about performance, said Matt Golden, policy chair of Efficiency First, during a recent webinar to explain the intricacies of the bill if passed as is. “What really matters is what happens at the meter,” Golden said. “It is really about focusing on the outcomes.” So, for wood pellet users, suppliers or anyone related to the biomass home heating industries, the current text of the bill should not exclude biomass-based systems from qualifying for any tax credits.

But, Golden also said the bill is really about predictive performance, and according to the Alliance For Green Heat, most energy efficiency software packages are not capable of analyzing the performance and savings generated by biomass heaters. Under the legislation, a homeowner would have to use an accredited contractor that would establish baseline energy use at the home using a specific standard. Software certified by Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET), or a company accredited by an equivalent certification program, would then be used to verify an increase in energy savings.

The performance-based system would award a tax credit starting at a 20 percent reduction rate of heating, cooling, water heating or permanent lighting, all of which would earn $2,000. The credit is then increased by $500 for every additional 5 percentage points in energy savings with a maximum credit capped at $5,000. The credit would expire in 2014.

Although the topic of wood pellet home heating systems was not directly brought up during the initial webinar to explain the bill, it was addressed in another webinar that lasted more than an hour and included more than 700 attendees interested in the legislation’s potential. Steve Nadel, executive director for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, did indicate that for homes heated by wood, the tax credit would apply as long as any energy savings related to such an energy option could be modeled.

RESNET, the energy auditing coalition that helped the three Senators draft the bill, explained that a performance-based model should be given support on the merit that such a bill would allow a consumer to decide how to alter a home’s energy inputs.