Greater Energy Efficiency Can Be Achieved Through Land Use Management

Gao ID: EMD-82-1 December 21, 1981

Today's energy situation is prompting a growing interest in planning, designing, and building communities that are energy-efficient. This includes: (1) minimizing the amount of energy needed to heat and cool buildings; (2) reducing energy intensive infrastructure construction, such as highways and sewer and water lines; and (3) reducing automobile travel.

The Federal Government is in an influential position to encourage greater use of these concepts and in the past has had programs designed for this purpose. However, the Government's emphasis on decreasing the number of Federal programs has curtailed some activities. Many local officials, builders and developers, financial institutions, and the public believe that energy can be saved through better land use. However, they are reluctant to accept these concepts because of implementation costs, the lack of cost savings data, and a strong community resistance to higher densities. The Department of Energy does not recognize land use as an element in achieving energy efficiency. However, it did have several research and development programs directed toward developing energy-efficient communities, but these programs were terminated because of budget cuts. Due to the uncertainty over whether the new Administration will support its energy-efficient community development policies, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has taken limited action to implement them. Unless States and local communities choose to purchase areawide planning services, many of their planning efforts will be curtailed. Federal income tax credits for investments in passive solar systems would be an excellent means of providing incentives for builders to use energy-efficient concepts. However, the Internal Revenue Service has restrictive eligibility criteria for the credits. A number of other existing mechanisms could be used to channel information on energy-efficient land use concepts.


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