MONTPELIER — A controversial charter change request to regulate energy efficiency in the Capital City’s commercial and residential buildings was reviewed by the House Government Operations Committee this week.
After two days of testimony, committee members changed some of the language in bill H.547 to reduce the power of the city to force energy efficiency standards on property owners. Instead, the revised language proposed an ordinance that would require property owners to disclose the energy efficiency of existing and new commercial and residential buildings when selling or renting property.
The committee adjourned Thursday without finalizing the language or voting on the charter change request.
The debate over the charter change request followed approval by voters, 928-896, on Town Meeting Day. The City Council initially proposed that the buyer of a building in the city would have to upgrade its energy efficiency to a standard that met city or state guidelines to reduce energy use and combat climate change. The city has a goal to be carbon neutral within municipal buildings by 2030 and citywide by 2050.
The proposal sparked a backlash among some realtors, rental property owners and developers concerned about increased costs to upgrade properties.
Some of those concerns were aired at the House Government Operations Committee hearings. Some committee members were concerned it might increase the cost of property in the city. Others were concerned about other logistical difficulties, such as measuring the energy use of a single rental unit in a building with a shared boiler.
Proposed language revisions to H.547 stated: “Enact ordinances that regulate and enforce energy efficiency disclosure requirements for existing and new commercial and residential buildings.
“These changes would remove any rental energy standards requirements and focus only on energy efficiency information disclosure,” the revised bill added. “With this charter change and ensuing ordinance, this approach would allow Montpelier to pave the way for Vermont communities to make energy visible, allow buyers to see the expected energy costs of the property they are buying or renting, and better value energy investments. Energy transparency will help real estate markets work more effectively while providing consumer protection.”
The bill also noted that if H.547 passes, Montpelier would embark on “a robust and inclusive stakeholder process” to craft an energy-efficiency ordinance.
Stakeholders would include: the City Council and staff; the Montpelier Housing Task Force; Montpelier Housing Trust Fund Board; the Social and Economic Justice Advisory Committee; Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee; Downstreet Housing and Community Development; Vermont realtors; rental property owners; the Building Performance Professionals Association; Efficiency Vermont; Capstone Community Action; and interested citizens and business owners.
A proposed timeline for moving forward with crafting an energy-efficiency ordinance would include public meetings and community forums in the summer and fall; reviewing ordinance options and measuring stakeholder feedback in the fall and winter; drafting ordinance language in the winter; fine-tuning a program to enact the ordinance in the winter and next spring; and enacting the ordinance in the summer and fall of next year.
The committee also heard from Richard Faesy, a principal and co-founder of Energy Futures Group in Hinesburg, who is a specialist in energy efficiency.
Faesy presented a Better Buildings study by the U.S. Department of Energy that showed energy-efficient homes sell significantly faster and for more money nationwide.
Speaking after the hearings, Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson acknowledged the concerns about the cost of making buildings more energy efficient.
Watson proposed that the city would work to provide rebates for incentives for property owners.
“What we can do is have more conversation with the community about energy efficiency in existing buildings and see if there’s a consensus about how we both incentivize and have regulation around it,” Watson said. “We know we need to go in the direction of energy efficiency, and incentives are not getting us where we need to go.
“At the same time, I want to create funded mandates, so let’s have a conversation about the best places to support and encourage people to make energy-efficiency choices,” she added. “There is a return and it’s an investment. It’s a financial investment that will be paid back over time, and it’s an investment in the environment.”
Once approved by the House committee, the charter change request must also be approved by the House before moving to the Senate.