Monday, 5 January 2015

US Energy Efficiency Bill Dies in Senate

During the final hours of the 113th Congress, the US Senate attempted to finish some last-minute legislation including an energy efficiency bill that proponents claimed would make the federal government a more responsible user of energy in their data centres.  The bill was blocked on a procedural motion by retiring Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma.

Although specific details of the bill were never made available to the public, the most important provision called for Washington to reform the way the Department of Energy (DOE) compiles and reports real energy consumption among government data centres.  Right now, the data used as the benchmark comes from an EPA report dating back to 2007.  Not only have things changed over the last seven years, but past investigations into EPA practices shows that many of the datacentre reports used to compile the 2007 numbers cannot be trusted.

According to the EPA numbers, government data centres consumed roughly 10% of the 61 billion kW of energy used by the entire industry in 2006.  The EPA used that number as a basis for forecasting future energy consumption among government facilities.  In fact, the EPA said the government's energy consumption would double by 2012.

The problem with the EPA report is the fact that a good number of the government data centres had no way of reliably reporting energy consumption.  For example, it was estimated that half the power being used by data centre facilities was dedicated to power and cooling infrastructure rather than actually running IT equipment however, without an accurate benchmark for measuring real consumption, some data centre officials merely guessed.

Why Updates Are Necessary

Senator Coburn officially ceased being a senator at the end of 2014.  With him being in retirement now that the 114th Congress is underway, it is assumed that the energy efficiency bill will be reintroduced to the new Congress.   It is expected to pass and go to the President's desk.

Regardless of one's political persuasion, the essence of the bill is important on a number of fronts.  First and foremost, the 2007 numbers are still being used for everything from setting sustainability goals to establishing environmental policy.  Working with inaccurate numbers will achieve less-than-expected results at best. It could even lead to detrimental decisions in a worst-case scenario.

Coburn has not said why he blocked the bill on a procedural motion, but it's widely speculated that he could not reach a compromise with his Democratic counterparts regarding how money allocated for the bill would be spent.  Coburn's reputation as a fiscal conservative has led him to stand in the way of multiple bills that were good in principle, but lacked the proper spending controls to keep costs from spiralling out of control.

Now that the new year the new Congress has commenced, it will likely move on a broader form of the legislation.  The only question is whether the energy consumption reporting by the US government will be any more accurate.

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