- Both houses of the U.S. Congress have passed long-delayed legislation aimed at improving the energy efficiency of buildings and water heaters, the New York Times reports. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation this week.
- The bill, sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH), would create a voluntary program for landlords to boost efficiency of commercial buildings and require the federal government to do energy usage assessments on commercial governments that they lease.
- The proposal also preserves large, grid-connected water heaters, often used by rural electric cooperatives as batteries for demand response programs. Electric co-ops have been lobbying Congress intently to get a carve-out for grid-enabled heaters. A new Department of Energy regulations that came into effect this month outlawed larger water heaters, which are less efficient than newer, smaller heaters.
Sens. Portman and Shaheen have been working on their national efficiency bill since 2011, but political complications and disagreements over climate change among politicians kept getting in the way. Most recently, the duo angled to get the bill passed during the lame duck session, but drama over the Keystone Pipeline scuttled that attempt.
The pair of senators introduced a scaled-down version of their bill for this session and finally found a legislative opening to get it passed. The Senate passed the bill on March 27 at the end of an all-night voting session, and the House passed it in a voice vote on Tuesday. The New York Times reports that President Obama is expected to sign the Shaheen-Portman bill this week.
Electric cooperatives rejoiced at the news of the bill's passing, as it protects an important grid resource for rural power companies. Many of them use large water heaters connected to the grid as makeshift batteries for demand response programs, drawing energy from them to balance supply and demand during peak demand times. Large water heaters were set to be phased out under new Department of Energy regulations this month, but the co-ops lobbied Congress and got their wish.
“Electric co-ops across the country appreciate the incredible perseverance of Senators Portman, Shaheen and many others for their leadership in passing S. 535,” Jo Ann Emerson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the co-op trade group, said. “The bill helps save consumers money, promotes reliability of the grid and helps integrate renewable energy—truly a win-win-win piece of legislation.”
More than 250 co-ops in 35 states currently use large water heaters for demand response, reducing demand by an estimated 500 MW per year, Electric Co-op Today reports.