Obama Unveils Building Efficiency Plan

President Obama on Thursday proposed enhanced incentives, new and expanded programs and tax and code reforms intended to improve energy efficiency in commercial buildings by 20 percent by 2020. The White House said his Better Buildings Initiative would “create jobs, save money, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and make our air cleaner.”

The proposal, part of the administration’s larger “Winning The Future” campaign, was unveiled in a speech at Penn State University, where the president toured the school’s Architectural Engineering Structures Lab and the Mechanical Systems and Indoor Environment Laboratory.

President Obama, Penn State University, Better Buildings Initiative

image via Penn State/Annemarie Mountz

The White House listed five points to the building efficiency plan. It didn’t attach a cost figure, but at least four of the programs appear to require new or expanded outlays, including: turning tax deductions for commercial building retrofits into more lucrative tax breaks, a move the administration said “could result in a ten-fold increase in commercial retrofit take up”; boosting access to loans through the Small Business Administration; introducing Race to Green, a program modeled after the administration’s Race to the Top education program that would reward states and municipal governments that take actions to spur retrofits; and expanding workforce training programs in energy auditing and building operations.

A final point of the plan would challenge CEOs and university presidents to make their facilities more efficient. In return, those who do well would receive “benefits including public recognition, technical assistance and best-practices sharing.”

The White House said the entire initiative would result in $40 billion in annual savings on energy bills, “money that can be put to better use hiring more workers, inventing new products, and creating shareholder value.”


Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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