Governor Bredesen signs Tennessee Clean Energy Future Act

Guest Blog | July 20, 2009 | Energy Policy

On July 8, Governor Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, surrounded by lawmakers and members of the business and environmental community, signed into law the Tennessee Clean Energy Future Act.  At the same event, he also unveiled several million dollars in grants for cities and counties to install energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.

SACE applauds the leadership of Governor Bredesen, who brought together business, environmental, and political leaders from across the state to form the Governor’s Task Force on Energy Policy in 2008.  This Task Force provided the final recommendations that shaped the different elements of the legislation.  Because of the collaboration of these various interests, the new law has broad support from a wide range of business and environmental groups.  It is this wide-ranging support, along with the tireless work of the Governor’s staff that got this legislation past several hurdles in the state legislature and to the Governor for signature.

The Legislation has several components that will advance clean energy in the state of Tennessee:
•    A five-year accelerated program to improve energy efficiency in state buildings;
•    Requiring Energy Star equipment and appliances in state agencies;
•    Mandating more energy-efficient and alternative fuel cars in the state’s passenger vehicle fleet;
•    Designating the clean-energy sector as eligible for Tennessee’s emerging industry tax credit;
•    Establishing state-wide residential building codes;
•    Streamlining the process for federal funding of the state’s low-income weatherization program.

Unfortunately, in order to get passage in the state’s House of Representatives, a compromise was necessary that will allow cities and counties to opt out of the residential building codes with a two-thirds vote of the local commission.  However, to encourage these jurisdictions to accept the new building codes, the Governor announced a $9.3 million grant program for those cities and counties that do not opt-out.  This funding would be available for energy efficiency and renewable energy retrofits on public buildings.

In all, this legislation is a significant step forward for the state of Tennessee, which ranked dead last in the nation in terms of residential energy usage last year.  The “lead by example” provisions that apply to the state government will not only reduce energy demand from one of the state’s largest energy users, but will also serve to showcase the benefits of clean energy, including lowered energy costs, a cleaner environment, and the creation of clean-energy jobs.  The residential energy codes will help ensure the residents of Tennessee have affordable and reliable electricity into the future.

The process of getting this legislation passed also shows the benefits of collaboration between various stakeholders to reach consensus on energy issues.  The Governor’s Task Force on Energy Policy represented a wide range of interests, from the construction industry to local governments, from energy research institutions to the environmental community.  SACE Board President and long-time environmental advocate, John Noel, was a member of the Task Force and Chairman of the Clean Energy Technology working group.  In all, it was a model for the rest of the nation on how to deal with some of the contentious issues surrounding our transition to a clean-energy economy.  The Task Force may be called on to reconvene as energy issues are addressed in the future.

However, there still remain some significant gaps in Tennessee’s energy legislation that will need to be addressed to truly make Tennessee a leader in clean energy development.  There is still no state-wide energy codes for commercial buildings, nor is there a robust program to encourage the widespread installation of renewable energy technologies.  Also, while the Clean Energy Future Act contains the authorization for a state-wide residential energy code, a rulemaking process will need to be undertaken to determine what codes the state will enact and enforce.

We at SACE will continue to advocate for the widespread development of energy efficiency and renewable energy resources throughout the Southeast, collaborating with other stakeholders where the opportunities present themselves.  We look forward to future successes as the Southeast continues to move towards a clean energy future.

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