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Energy Efficiency concept on the gearwheels, 3D rendering

Pulse check: Energy efficiency gains overshadowed by familiar foes

Dec. 27, 2017
Taking stock, our sustainability expert looks back to update some predictions from columns earlier this year.

As we close out 2017, I thought it might be interesting to update a few of the topics about which I wrote during this past year. 

Last January, I conceded that my 2016 predictions – made in late 2015 – for progress in controlling Legionellosis were not achieved. Earlier, I had predicted that new procedures, technologies, and perhaps even some new businesses would emerge in response to the growing incidence of Legionnaires’ disease, hopefully controlling the threat of this serious, often fatal, disease that continues particularly to plague the HVAC industry. Last month, Legionnaires’ disease was again the news. Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, had to shut down two cooling towers after more than a dozen visitors to the park were confirmed to have contracted the disease and it was determined that the cooling towers had elevated levels of Legionella bacteria.

I also mentioned that I was more confident in the accuracy of my prediction for 2017, that the value of commercial PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) projects would approach a billion dollars in cumulative project financing. As of the end of 2016, such PACE projects were halfway to that goal at $493 million, approximately $281 million of it last year. (By comparison, cumulative funding of residential PACE projects was $4.2 billion at the end of 2016). Last April, I again wrote about PACE, in which I expressed concern about S.838, the PACE Act of 2017, which had just been introduced by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). In that bill, Sen. Cotton characterized PACE as a predatory green energy "lending scam designed to trick seniors into high-interest-rate loans for technology that could be obsolete in a few years". In fact, the Senator’s assertions could not have been further from the truth. As everyone in our industry knows, LED lighting and high-efficiency HVAC are not about to become obsolete!

Also last year – for the fourth of fifth time since I started this blog in 2013 – I wrote about Section 179D of the Internal Revenue Code, the energy-efficient commercial buildings tax deduction. For those not familiar with this provision, it was introduced in 2005 as part of the Energy Policy Act (EPACT) and subsequently extended several times before expiring at the end of last year. In its last structure, 179D provided for tax deductions of up to $1.80 per-sq-ft for commercial and government buildings that met certain energy efficiency criteria. According to the Coalition for Energy Efficient Jobs & Investment – a stakeholders group of which my firm is a member – 179D has since its inception leveraged billions of dollars in private capital, resulted in energy-efficient enhancements to thousands of buildings, and created and preserved hundreds of thousands of jobs.

A recent economic impact study conducted by Regional Economic Models, Inc. found that “Section 179D is an engine of economic and employment growth” and that implementation of the contemplated enhanced and “improved” version of the provision could support more than 76,000 jobs and contribute nearly $7.4 billion per year toward the U.S. GDP. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the future of 179D is still uncertain. Senate Republican filed an extenders bill the same day that the tax reform bill passed, and one of its provisions would extend 179D for one year retrospective and one year prospective (i.e., 1/1/17 thru 12/31/18). However, even if it moves through the Senate, it still must overcome the deficit perspective and pass the House. 

Finally, last September, after sheltering-in-place during Hurricane Irma at my home, a beach condo in South Florida, I wrote a short column for HPAC Engineering entitled “Winds of change: Are more intense storms the new normal?” In it, I discussed the unprecedented characteristics of both Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, which had both struck Texas just days apart, and the role of climate change in those events. I opined that the scientific evidence of rising global temperatures is undeniable, and the only question was the impact of human activity to the phenomena. Harvey was described by the National Weather Service as “beyond anything experienced”, and Irma was the largest ever-recorded Atlantic hurricane. Both of these storms took human lives and did, according to Moody's Analytics, an estimated $150-to-$200 billion in damage.

And then, between the time that I wrote that article and it was published, Hurricane Maria struck the Caribbean. Many islands sustained catastrophic damage (on Dominica, nearly every structure was damaged or destroyed), and Puerto Rico is still far from a full recovery. The recently-published Climate Science Special Report (CSSR), part of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, is an authoritative assessment of the science of climate change, particularly in the U.S. That report apparently answers the question of anthropogenic climate change, concluding that, based on extensive evidence, it is “extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

A regular contributor to HPAC Engineering and a member of its editorial advisory board, the author is a principal at Sustainable Performance Solutions LLC, a south Florida-based engineering firm focusing on energy and sustainability. He can be reached at [email protected]

About the Author

Larry Clark

A member of HPAC Engineering’s Editorial Advisory Board, Lawrence (Larry) Clark, QCxP, GGP, LEED AP+, is principal of Sustainable Performance Solutions LLC, a South Florida-based engineering firm focused on energy and sustainability consulting. He has more than two dozen published articles on HVAC- and energy-related topics to his credit and frequently lectures on green-building best practices, central-energy-plant optimization, and demand-controlled ventilation.