• Penalty for supersized homes?
     | January 09,2007

    MONTPELIER — A surcharge on big energy-hog houses?

    That's the plan some lawmakers have in mind with a bill that would impose hefty state fees on new large homes.

    Under the Senate version of the proposed law, those who put up new houses larger than 4,000 square feet would be charged unless their buildings were energy efficient.

    A similar bill likely to be introduced soon in the House is even tougher. Fees assessed under that proposal on such large houses will go directly to a fund promoting renewable energy production in the state.

    Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, said he will introduce his House bill, which would impose a $1,000 per-square-foot surcharge on the construction of houses over 4,000 square feet.

    "It's meant to make people think about what they are doing," said Klein, who added that to some extent all Vermonters underwrite the cost of energy and other impacts of large new homes. "When they build these homes, everybody in Vermont has to pay for it," he said.

    The money would go into the state's clean energy fund, Klein added.

    He will also propose that owners of those large homes are billed for power at the time and cost they use it, he added. For instance, homeowners who were charged in that way would pay more for using power at peak times when it is more expensive.

    Sen. Virginia Lyons, D-Chittenden and chairwoman of the Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said the version of the measure proposed in the Senate, takes a slightly different approach. The bill is sponsored by Lyons and Sen. Clair Ayer and Sen. Harold Giard, Democrats of Addison County.

    Under that bill, known as S.10, those who build large houses would have to pay a fee equal to 1 percent of the cost of the house, unless their homes meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards for "green" or energy efficient buildings.

    "The concept is to put in place incentives for building well-insulated buildings for homes and businesses," Lyons said. "This kind of policy is the kind of policy I think we will be talking about over the next couple of years."Both bills, if made into law, would regulate the connection to the energy grid each new home needs, unless it relies entirely on its own power sources, such as wind or solar power.

    "It's just ridiculous. It's just awful," Joe Sinagra of the Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of Northern Vermont said of Klein's proposal. "We have a housing crisis and you are adding an additional cost on housing."

    Many of the people building those large houses — the average Vermont house is about 2,800 square feet — are second-home owners who spend most of the year in other states. They contribute to property taxes and other revenue in Vermont, but not school expenses, Sinagra said. And they are paying a higher tax rate already, he said.

    "These are just the people we need," he said.

    But Klein said other places that have imposed similar fees on large home construction — for instance Aspen, Colo. — have not seen a drop in second-home owners.

    "In Aspen that was not the result. What people did was build smaller, more efficient homes and they probably built more of them," he said.

    Jerry Howard, the executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Homebuilders, said that while he understands why Vermont has set strict environmental and land use standards for development and construction, it comes at a price.

    "When you make those land preservation decisions many times it drives the price of housing up," said Howard, who will speak tonight in Burlington as the Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of Northern Vermont marks its 50th anniversary. The meeting is not open to the public.

    Howard called decisions to enforce 10-acre zoning "legitimate public policy" decisions.

    But, he added, "that puts a house out of reach for a lot of young people".

    Howard, who grew up in the state and went to the University of Vermont, still owns a house in South Hero, he added.

    Nationally, the construction of new houses will likely rebound, after an inevitable "correction" in the market in recent years, Howard said. Vermont will probably follow those national trends, although it may take somewhat longer than the rest of the country to do so, he said.

    "Like the rest of the rest of the country I think Vermont will come out, it might be a little slower," Howard said.

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