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Lawmaker, homebuilders push to ban energy-efficiency codes

green-thumb-620Sen. Chester Crandell has had enough of the “green” agenda he says is being imposed on hardworking Arizonans.

That’s why the Heber Republican teamed up with Arizona’s homebuilders on SB1227, which would prevent cities or counties from adopting energy-efficiency plans.

The measure passed the Senate Committee of the Whole on March 3, but has since stalled.

Although energy efficiency plans may provide a warm and fuzzy feeling for those worried about global warming, which Crandell said isn’t real, he sees them as nothing but a scheme to require the use of “green” manufacturers’ building materials.

Spencer Kamps, a lobbyist for the Homebuilders Association of Central Arizona, said the most immediate impact of these energy-efficiency codes is the possibility of increased costs being codified into law.

Kamps said homebuilders have been building homes with increasing levels of energy efficiency for years, and that some homebuilders already exceed standards.

Energy-efficiency standards have become stricter over the years. Using the Home Energy Rating System (HERS), a standard efficiency-scoring system, the first score of 100 was required in the 2006 code. A score of 85 (a decreasing score means higher efficiency) was required in the 2009 code. The 2012 code calls for a score of 73.

There are three measurements that go into the HERS score: appliances, thermal envelope (insulation) and heating/cooling. Starting in 2012, the code called for compliance with particular ratings on each of those three, as well as the overall combined score for all three.

As the increasingly strict codes are imposed, Kamps said, homebuilders are forced to use more expensive materials.

The energy-efficiency codes do one thing for sure, Kamps said – they ensure that manufacturers that provide “green” building materials have a steady stream of business. Those companies, Kamps said, play a large role in keeping and tightening the efficiency codes.

“There’s a whole cabal of people protecting the energy code,” Kamps said.

One of the people looking to protect the energy code is Sandy Bahr, the lobbyist for the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, a nonprofit organization that supports environmental and conservation causes.

Bahr said that while there may be some added upfront costs, the cumulative effect of the standards is a reduced energy load throughout a system. That means utility companies don’t have to spend as much money building new generation facilities or purchasing “peak” power, which is the most expensive and is only necessary when an energy load hits very high levels.

Another of those looking to protect the standards is Jeff Schlegel, a representative for Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, a nonprofit group that promotes energy efficiency.

The measures written into the energy-efficiency codes, Schlegel said, actually save people money.

“From the day you move into the house, it costs the homeowner less,” Shlegel said, “The energy savings you get each month are larger than the slightly higher cost of building the more efficient home.”

The current energy efficiency code, Schlegel said, typically leads to a 10 percent to 15 percent savings in utility costs.

Bahr, of the Sierra Club, said she has seen evidence that having higher efficiency for homes can lead to lower default rates by homeowners, because less has to be spent on the utility bills.

But the biggest savings are delivered to lower-income Arizonans, Schlegel said, because when it comes to rental properties, the renters are responsible for the utility costs, not the owner.

Irrespective of the return in energy savings on the investment of costlier home construction materials,  Kamps said that in some scenarios the homebuilders get stuck with the extra costs no matter what.

“The problem is (the energy efficiency codes) aren’t reflected in the valuation of the mortgage,” Kamps said. “This is a huge issue.”

The specific ways homebuilders comply with the codes sometimes isn’t valued by the appraiser, whose job it is to report to the bank what the home is worth.

Federal regulations aimed at preventing manipulation of this process, which came about following the housing crisis of the last decade, bar the homebuilder from communicating with the appraiser about them.

Even if the homebuilder has been accustomed to achieving an overall passing energy efficiency score, Kamps said, only particular ways of doing so will suffice as the codes are further tightened. And other energy-efficiency measures could be disregarded even though they add costs to the home, he said.

SB1227

Municipalities and counties are prohibited from adopting as mandatory any building code, ordinance or other legal requirement that is related to energy efficiency, energy conservation or green construction in new construction, and from denying any license or building permit or imposing any fine on a person for failure to comply with such a requirement. Does not apply to any legal requirement that was adopted and effective before the effective date of this legislation.

First sponsor: Sen. Chester Crandell

Status: Approved by Senate Committee of the Whole; no further action.

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