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Why Home Star Is A Big Deal

Hey, look: Congress made headway on some below-the-radar energy stuff that's actually pretty important. Yesterday, the House passed the Home Star Retrofit Act, and the Senate should be taking it up soon. Twelve House Republicans even voted for the thing. This is the bill that got dubbed "cash for caulkers" in the press—essentially, it would provide rebates to homeowners who installed energy-saving devices like insulation, better windows, more efficient heating systems. Here are the details:

The Silver Star program will provide up-front rebates for the installation of specific energy-saving technologies, including insulation, duct sealing, windows and doors, air sealing, and water heaters. Homeowners will be able to receive up to $3,000 in rebates under Silver Star.

The Gold Star program rewards homeowners who conduct a comprehensive energy audit and implement a full complement of measures to reduce energy use throughout the home. Consumers will receive $3,000, or half the cost, for measures that reduce energy use by 20 percent, and can receive up to $8,000 when additional energy savings are achieved.

This is the sort of bill that benefits a wide array of different constituencies—homeowners can save money, auditors get business, environmentalists are happy because it means energy use does down (as do carbon emissions). So it's not a huge surprise that, as Dave Roberts highlights and as you can see here, this bill got considerable business support: the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Association of Home Builders…

It's a good reminder that there are a number of positive climate-related steps Congress could take that really aren't controversial at all—there's more to energy policy than bloody-knuckled fights over offshore drilling and gas taxes. Improving energy efficiency is an easy place for improvement—it's such a no-brainer in terms of saving money and reducing pollution that it shouldn't really garner that much opposition. (Well, okay, a number of House Republicans threw a fit over the bill, but they were beaten back with relative easy.)

It's also worth noting how modest this step actually is. The Home Star program would cost up to $6 billion yet save the country an estimated $9.2 billion in energy costs over the next 10 years alone (to say nothing of the benefits from reduced carbon emissions). In the grand scheme of things, though, that's tiny. This recent McKinsey report identified $520 billion worth of efficiency investments that could save the country a whopping $1.2 trillion in energy costs (we'd also have no trouble meeting the 2020 emission targets the United States pledged at Copenhagen—and, again, we'd do so at a net profit). Obviously there are questions about how you'd finance those investments—the U.S. Treasury wouldn't just shell out all that money upfront—but there really is an enormous opportunity there.