Need for greater energy efficiency is now

With all the partisanship in Washington, D.C., it’s hard to feel optimistic that Democrats and Republicans will be able to come together on much. There is, however, a bright spot when it comes to the issue of energy efficiency, and I believe that progress can be made on both sides of the aisle.

The United States is the second-largest energy consumer in the world (China is the first), and our demand only continues to grow. While more production is one way to meet this demand, we must also look at the consumption side and ask ourselves this: are we being as efficient as possible with our energy usage?

Energy efficiency is not a front-page headline-grabber like the fiscal cliff or the debt ceiling, but it should be.

Using our energy more efficiently saves money, cuts pollution and creates jobs. That is why I have partnered with Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat from Vermont, to form a bipartisan Energy Efficiency Caucus with a simple goal: focus on promoting performance contracting in government buildings across the country and thereby provide guaranteed energy savings to American taxpayers. No government mandates are required. It’s simply a free market idea to achieve energy efficiency.

The federal government is the nation’s No. 1 energy consumer, so it’s a good place to start looking for efficiencies. Nearly 3 billion square feet of building space is owned and operated by the federal government, and by making government buildings more energy efficient, we can save taxpayer dollars and give a boost to the construction and energy sectors of our economy.

One of the ways we propose to do this is by better utilizing Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs) and Utility Energy Service Contracts (UESCs).

These contracts allow a private company to perform energy upgrades on federal buildings. The private company assumes all the costs and risks associated with the upgrade, and the federal government shares the monetary savings with them once the project is complete. It is estimated a typical $10 million ESPC creates 100 well-paying private-sector jobs, and federal buildings benefit from more energy-efficient makeovers. Everybody involved wins, and Republicans and Democrats alike can take pride in having truly accomplished something that benefits our economy and our environment.

Unfortunately (and not surprisingly), the federal government has been slow to take advantage of these energy saving contracts.

In 2011, President Obama urged federal department and agency heads to enter into significantly more contracts by the end of 2013 and while we commend the president for this initial step, the progress on this goal is not as far along as it could be.

This is where members of Congress can come together and help move the process along. Our Energy Savings Performance Caucus has already made strides in getting executive branch departments to evaluate their own facilities and identify potential savings through ESPCs and performance contracts that promote energy efficiency at the federal, state, and local level.

Yet, more needs to be done and the time to act is now. It is time to show the American people that Congress can work together on something, and I believe there is a real opportunity to use energy efficiency as a positive step forward.

Gardner, R-Colo., represents Larimer and Weld counties.

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