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Energy efficiency task force will miss first deadline

Friday, June 20, 2008 by Mark Richardson

Members of the point-of-sale task force will miss a June deadline to report to City Council on a list of possible environmental upgrades for Austin residences, after running into a wave of criticism in recent weeks. That information was part of a report from Task Force Member Richard Amato to the Resource Management Commission this week.


The Task Force – also known as the Energy Efficiency Retrofit Task Force – has been studying ways to upgrade the city’s homes and commercial building to make them more energy efficient. Much of the controversy over the task force’s work arose during the recent Place 4 Council runoff election, when candidate Cid Galindo accused opponent Laura Morrison, who won the race, of supporting a measure that would force homeowners to make expensive upgrades before a home could be sold.


That is not what the task force has been discussing, Amato said.


“We are focusing on a set of voluntary upgrades for homeowners to consider,” he said. “The only thing that is likely to become mandatory is an energy audit at the point of sale. That would give the owner and the buyer a way to determine how efficient the structure is, and what steps might be taken.”


He said they are looking at a number of upgrades that would make the homes more energy efficient, such as radiant barriers, upgraded plumbing fixtures, improved HVAC systems, caulking and sealing windows and doors, and other possible changes.


Amato, who represents the Resource Management Commission on the task force, said task force members have been split into three subcommittees: single-family homes; multi-family homes; and commercial buildings. Each group will study how the recommended regulations would affect each group, and report at the panel’s July meeting.


He said some of the discussion involved ways to monitor how well voluntary measures are working over time. He said if, at some time in the future, compliance is low, they might consider making some of the upgrades mandatory.


“There still continues to be spirited debate as to how far it (mandatory regulations) should go,” Amato said. “There are a lot of arguments, including free will, property rights and others. But nothing has been decided yet.”


Task force members are also looking at ways to quantify the results of an energy audit that could help homeowners and potential buyers determine the monetary value of any suggested upgrades.


“There are ways to compare similar houses, but it becomes more difficult when you start looking at older homes,” he said. “The age of a home can make it very difficult to calculate the benefits of efficiency upgrades. At that point, it becomes a matter of educating and motivating the homeowner to see the benefits.


Amato said the panel’s report was still “a work in progress,” and a new date has not been set for a final report to the Council.

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