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Environmental groups slam bill to establish state energy efficiency standard

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PHOENIX – A bill authored by a Republican lawmaker would establish a statewide standard for residential energy efficiency building codes, providing an alternative to codes used by many local governments.

The Home Builders Association of Central Arizona backs the legislation by Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, as a way for local governments to comply with the latest international energy code.

“We’re looking to comply with a comparable 2012 standard so we can achieve that standard through performance-based compliance,” Spencer Kamps, vice president of legislative affairs for the association, told the House Committee on Energy, Environment and Natural Resources last week.

But opponents of the bill say because it is less stringent than the international codes to which many cities and towns adhere, it leaves the door open for building less-efficient homes.

Jeff Schlegel, Arizona representative for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, said one of the reasons for the bill is local governments’ leadership on energy-efficient building.

“The fact that we have local communities out there doing that, trying to do this, the homebuilders have been dismayed by that progress,” he said. “And so what you have here is a state mandate that’s being proposed, essentially, to stop that progress.”

Griffin’s bill failed on a tie vote last week in the House Committee on Energy, Environment and Natural Resources. But the legislation was revived later in the week as a strike-everything amendment to HB 2404 and adopted by the Senate Government and Environment Committee. It awaits a full vote of the Senate.

Griffin didn’t respond to requests for comment by late Monday afternoon.

Currently, counties and municipalities that employ energy-efficiency standards use building codes developed by the nonprofit International Code Council. HB 2404, as amended, would establish a voluntary statewide standard based on the Home Energy Rating System index developed by the nonprofit Residential Energy Services Network.

A home with a HERS index rating below 100 has greater energy efficiency than an average home of the same size. A score of zero indicates no net energy use.

The bill would divide Arizona into four climate zones, each with a different HERS requirement. The lowest, 73, applies to climate zones 2 and 3, which include Maricopa and Pima counties.

Schlegel said a rating of 73 is a ceiling because it isn’t energy-efficient enough. He said many local governments’ standards are more energy efficient, and he said adding the HERS rating as an option would counteract those efforts. Some municipalities are building homes at a more efficient level than HERS 73, he added.

“A lot of the homes that are being built are energy-efficient … and allowing HERS 73 would actually be going backward from where we are now,” he said.

Kamps, however, called the alternative standard a floor because homebuilders would be free to follow a more efficient code.

“It’s a minimum standard,” he said. “There are a multitude of above-code programs, and those exist today, and they’ll exist after (the bill becomes law).”

A HERS score of 73 matches the international energy-efficiency standard for 2012, Kamps said. The International Code Council updates its energy efficiency codes every three years, and local governments can choose to comply with past codes, which require less energy efficiency.

Kamps said giving local governments the option to comply with the HERS standard would actually increase energy efficiency in areas that are running on the 2006 or 2009 international codes because it would bring them up to par with the 2012 international standard.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, told the House committee last week that a standard set by Arizona law would become irrelevant when updated international codes are released in 2015.

“This bill will not lead to increased performance through a flexible performance path,” she said. “We’re really talking about prohibiting cities and towns from having that flexibility and from doing more to increase that energy efficiency.”