Reduce, Reuse, Rehab: The American Clean Energy and Security Act and Historic Preservation

On June 26, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), also known as the Waxman-Markey Bill, with a vote of 219-212. Known for its “cap and trade” and “cash for clunkers” programs, ACES covers a wide scope of climate change and energy topics, a scope that has been both praised and criticized. Read H.R. 2454 in its entirety 

As we often discuss in this newsletter, sensible rehabilitation of historic and existing structures can lead to improvements in energy efficiency and also reduce construction waste expended by the United States. Though advocated by many individuals and organizations, the relationship between the rehabilitation of existing structures and energy efficiency has not yet achieved its full understanding in mainstream American thought. Despite this, advocates continue to make progress.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act introduces a new program that directly addresses the connection between rehabilitation and energy efficiency.

In significant recognition of how the rehabilitation of existing structures can contribute to energy efficiency in the U.S., Section 202 of ACES proposes the establishment of the Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance Program (REEP).

Introduced by U.S. Representative Peter Welch (D-VT) and included in the ACES legislation, the REEP Act (H.R. 1778) offers $2.5 billion in green retrofit incentives each fiscal year from 2010-2013, to be administered through State Energy Programs.

State Energy Program awards for both residential and commercial retrofits will not exceed 50% of the total per-building retrofit costs, with the total per-building amounts rewarded based on the energy efficiency achieved.

In addition, REEP specifically addresses the role of historic buildings. For buildings “in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places”, REEP offers up to 120% of the amounts available to non-historic residential and non-residential buildings. For instance, if an owner of a non-historic residence qualifies for $1000 in incentives for achieving a 10% increase in energy efficiency, an owner of a historic residence, as defined above, could qualify for up to $1200 for the same 10% increase. Read H.R. 1778 in its entirety by searching http://thomas.loc.gov or jump to page 324http://energycommerce.house.gov/Press_111/20090623/hr2454_rulesfiled.pdf.

While REEP does not focus solely on historic properties, its focus on the energy-efficient retrofitting of existing structures, historic and non-historic, provides opportunities for discussion about the relationship between preservation and energy efficiency while also creating incentives for the physical rehabilitation of the properties.

In addition to the funds administered by the State Energy Programs, the departments of Energy and Housing and Urban Development will coordinate the retrofitting of assisted and public housing, ensuring that energy efficiency and savings will be achieved in housing throughout the country.

Of course, REEP covers only a small piece of the hotly-debated, wide-ranging energy and climate change legislation. Briefly summarized, ACES includes—among other things—grants for “green” employment opportunities; new energy efficiency standards for utilities; incentives for developing carbon capture and sequestration technology; and a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by 17% by 2020.See a more detailed summary of the ACES scope.

As ACES has passed through the U.S. House of Representatives, its next step toward becoming law lies with the U.S. Senate. With the Senate in recess until September 8, 2009, we have time to review ACES and the REEP program and prepare to contact our senators.

With federal energy legislation that recognizes the environmental benefits of existing structure rehabilitation, we have an important opportunity to spread the word. Don’t miss the chance to participate in the dialogue!

For more information:

Go to http://thomas.loc.gov for full access to the primary sources. For ACES, enter “H.R. 2454” in the search. For REEP, enter “H.R. 1778” or jump to Section 202 in H.R. 2454.

See a timeline of all Congressional action on ACES.

Track the progress of ACES.

Read the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce report on the passing of H.R. 2454.

Review the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s analysis of ACES and historic preservation.