Energy Upgrade Plan Wins Kudos

The Obama administration has unveiled its energy efficiency proposal. Industry observers especially like provisions that are intended to make it easier for energy upgrades to pencil out.

The Obama Administration and the real estate industry have had their ups and downs over the past two years, but so far the energy efficiency proposal unveiled by the president last Thursday is earning glowing reviews from major industry groups.

In a statement characteristic of the response, Real Estate Roundtable president & CEO Jeff DeBoer termed the plan “an excellent blueprint to help re-employ the construction workforce, modernize our built environment, and help ensure our Nation’s energy security.” DeBoer added that the tax credits and other incentives proposed by the White House “will leverage private investment, encourage lending, and create well-paying jobs that can’t be exported.”

Obama also won kudos from NAIOP, the Building Owners and Managers Association, the National Multi Housing Council and the National Apartment Association for a multi-pronged strategy dubbed the Better Buildings Initiative. The president has repeatedly tied energy-efficient buildings to economic growth. On the day after the State of the Union address last month, the president called attention to the issue by visiting the facilities of Orion Energy Systems Inc., a Manitowoc, Wis.-based supplier of energy-efficient lighting systems (pictured in official White House photo).

The plan outlined by the White House last week calls for a 20 percent improvement in the nation’s building stock by 2020. The Administration estimates that the steps would also trim business energy bills by $40 billion annually. A key mechanism would be the overhaul of current incentive programs in favor of a strategy that emphasizes competitive grants.

Industry observers especially like provisions that are intended to make it easier for energy upgrades  to pencil out. The White House wants to replace tax deductions with more generous tax credits that would offer more attractive incentives to upgrade properties. Also on the White House wish list are steps designed to make financing improvements more attractive, such as a pilot loan guarantee program offered by the U.S. Department of Energy. “The President’s aggressive approach to provide incentives for commercial building retrofits and new construction projects, as well as a new proposed competitive grant program, will be important factors in building owners’ ability to retrofit and improve their properties,” NAIOP president & CEO Thomas Bisacquino commented in a statement.

The competitive grant program cited by Bisacquino would reward state and local governments for streamlining standards in a way that draw private investment to energy upgrades. Other components of the Obama blueprint include the Better Buildings Challenge, which invites CEOs and university presidents to take specified steps toward more energy-efficient buildings. Participants would be in line for technical assistance, best-practices sharing and public recognition. On the technical side, the White House proposes better transparency regarding performance and enhanced workforce training in energy auditing and building operations.