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Energy building standards could save $155 billion

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Everyone knows that people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. But the US Department of Energy (DOE) has even more advice for them -- people who live in glass houses should seriously consider triple glazing, lots of insulation, and probably a solar water heater.

It's all part of DOE's new Building Energy Performance Standards -- BEPS for short. DOE says BEPS could save $155 billion in 1980 dollars by the year 2000, while raising initial construction costs only slightly.

BEPS establishes overall energy consumption "budgets" -- so many Btus per square foot per year -- for different kinds of buildings in different climates. Builders can meet the standards any way they want.

So, with some combination of energy savers such as solar collectors, extra insulation, of heavy glazing, someone really set on a glass house will be able to go ahead and build one.

But meanwhile, DOE is being subjected to a verbal stoning from environmentalists, electric utilities, and home builders on account of BEPS.

Although a Sierra Club spokesman calls the program "better than anything else DOE is doing," some critics say it's an "exercise in overkill." The electric utilities feel BEPS is biased against electric heat. The National Association of Home Builders calls DOE's statistical methods "wacky."

Many question whether BEPS will do anything to encourage energy conservation that the marketplace isn't doing already. Congress already has written some "escape hatches" into the BEPS statute, should giving BEPS real teeth prove politically impossible.

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