I submitted an email to the Mayor recently through ABOR’s Take Action website. I received a form-letter response back. It points out a few directions that the city council gave to the task force that will be formulating the recommendations regarding the ordinance. If these directions are followed, then the ordinance could actually be very helpful and less damaging as many of us feared. Here is the full email:
Thanks for your recent email regarding energy efficiency upgrades to existing homes. I apologize for the form-letter response, but I’ve received more emails on this matter than I am able to respond to individually (which isn’t uncommon).
There is almost universal agreement that energy efficiency is an important goal, by which everyone benefits: the homeowner or tenant, the utility, the local economy and the environment. Where folks differ is on their ideas of exactly what role the City should play.
The City Council has established a highly inclusive 28-member task force to study this issue and make recommendations to Council. The task force, made up of professionals from the residential real estate industry, is in the very early stages of its work and hasn’t made any recommendations yet. Once the task force has completed its work, its recommendations will undergo an extensive public review process, including both boards and commissions and public hearings. My best guess is that it will be middle or late fall at the earliest before Council might consider any program suggestions.
Council gave the task force some broad direction for formulating its recommendations. We said:
1. Efficiency measures should be cost effective and self-financing, making home ownership or occupancy more affordable. That is, savings on electricity bills must clearly outweigh the expense of any required upgrades. We’re talking about “low hanging fruit” here. Things like weather stripping, efficient lighting and solar screens that have very short simple-payback periods and that, when financed, easily create positive cash flow for the homeowner from Day 1. This will reduce the cost of home ownership and thereby help reduce foreclosures.
2. IF the sale of a property is what triggers the program (whatever that program may be), it should be designed so that it doesn’t delay property closings. By definition, this means we’re not going to require people to make upgrades before they can sell their homes. I also think a program can be designed that doesn’t require burdensome inspections and that doesn’t require extra money to be brought to the table at closing.
We face a rapidly changing energy future. Fact is, if you like what’s happening with gasoline prices right now, you’re going to love the cost of electricity in this country in the next few years. Powering our homes and buildings is only going to get more expensive — dramatically so. And we have a tremendous opportunity to get in front of this challenge by dealing with the highest-return/lowest-cost opportunity available, while simultaneously making housing more affordable and homeownership more secure. After we successfully tailor a program for single-family homes, it will be much easier for us to do the same with multi-family and commercial buildings.
We have to remember that we’re all in this together. We all share in the cost of wasted electricity. It forces us to make expensive power purchases on the spot market during the heat of summer, and it brings closer the day when we would have to build new – and very expensive – power plants. These are the forces that drive up electric rates for everyone, not just the homes and businesses that are operating inefficiently.
I’m confident that if we work together in a spirit of good faith and cooperation, study the issue and bring our best efforts to the task — rather than taking a ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ approach — we can develop solutions that will benefit home and business owners and put us on strong footing as we enter a shifting energy economy. This is precisely what we did last year with the homebuilders and the design community. At their specific urging we strengthened our building code – adding stricter regulations – thereby making new homes built in Austin in 2008 over 19% more energy efficient than new homes built in 2007. The result is that these new homes are more valuable and marketable because they are more affordable to live in, due to remarkably lower monthly electricity bills.
I ask that you become aware of the good work that is actually happening with the taskforce, and as they bring forth specific recommendations later this year, give us your input. Thank you in advance.