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Wynn tries to set record straight on energy efficiency

Thursday, June 12, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Mayor Will Wynn sent an email to friends and supporters Wednesday to counteract attempts from the Austin Board of Realtors, among others, to thwart the city’s efforts to make existing homes more energy efficient.


Place 4 candidate Cid Galindo has also been criticizing his opponent, Laura Morrison, in both mail and TV advertising for supporting what the campaign has called the “Green home tax,” although the City Council is months away from considering whether to require an energy audit for certain homes. Morrison has responded by calling Galindo a liar.


Unsurprisingly, some interpreted the Mayor’s email as a comment on the campaign slugfest.


Matt Watson, Wynn’s Policy Director, said in response to a query: “Misperceptions about what the task force is doing were flying around long before it became a campaign issue.  And to the extent they’re not corrected, the misperceptions will continue.  The Mayor is trying to fix that.  He’s trying to let people know what’s really on the table so we can move forward and have an intelligent policy discussion.”

Here is the email:


Dear Friend,


Over the last several months, you may have heard talk about a proposed City plan for achieving improved energy efficiency in existing homes. Some have called it the “point of sale” ordinance, or even the “green home tax.” There’s been a lot of confusion and misunderstanding on this issue, so I want to try to set the record straight. I hope that you will take a moment to read this.


As you know, we face a rapidly changing energy future. If you like what’s happening with gas prices right now, then you’re going to love what happens with the cost of electricity over the next few years. Make no mistake: powering our homes and buildings is going to get more expensive, perhaps dramatically. Right now, we have an opportunity to get in front of it.


This matters to you whether you know it or not, because we all share in the cost of wasted electricity. It forces us to make expensive power purchases on the energy markets during the heat of summer, and brings us closer to the day when we would need to build expensive new power plants. This drives up electric rates for everyone, not just those who are wasting energy.


Anticipating these problems, the City Council established an inclusive 28-member Task Force to study and make recommendations on ways to achieve better energy efficiency in Austin homes, rental properties and commercial buildings. This Task Force has not made any recommendations yet, but their draft concept is a far cry from some of the characterizations of it that I’ve heard.


To be clear, we’re still many months and a lot of public process away from considering anything, but if the Task Force’s draft concept were adopted today, here’s what it would NOT do:


1) It would NOT impose a tax on selling your home.


2) It would NOT require people to make energy efficiency upgrades before they could sell their home.


3) It would NOT require people to pass an energy efficiency inspection or get a “certificate of compliance” before they could sell their home.


4) It would NOT force people to buy expensive items like new air conditioners or new windows.


5) It would NOT cause burdensome delays to home sales.


If the Task Force’s draft concept were adopted today, here’s what it WOULD do:


1) It WOULD require sellers to get an inexpensive energy audit and provide that information to prospective homebuyers.


Sellers wouldn’t have to make upgrades, and they wouldn’t have to pass an inspection – they would just have to let buyers know what kind of efficiency condition the house is in. The idea of requiring “audit and disclosure” was recommended by the Austin Board of Realtors (as represented on the Task Force), and I think it’s a good one. Information is the first step to making smart energy choices, and buyers deserve to know what they’re getting into when they make the biggest investment that most people will ever make in their lives.


2) It WOULD encourage people to VOLUNTARILY participate in a program to achieve basic efficiency upgrades, if a house needs it.


The Task Force is discussing a VOLUNTARY program. Under a voluntary program, “low-hanging fruit” like weather stripping and duct sealing would be prioritized, and spending caps would be proposed. All of Austin Energy’s rebates and incentives would be available, including their low-interest loan program. As such, basic energy efficiency strategies would be self-financing – that is, the savings on utility bills would outweigh the cost of the upgrades, which would actually put money into the pockets of homeowners, make home ownership more affordable and secure, and put homeownership in reach of more people.


3) It WOULD set voluntary participation targets and track whether we’re meeting our goals over the next few years.


If Austin realtors do what they’ve committed to do as part of the Task Force and become full partners in this process – and if the City and Austin Energy does what we’ve committed to do and make this an easy, seamless process – I have no doubt we’ll meet our goals. But if we’re falling short, we’ll need to recognize that and try a different approach. Under the Task Force draft concept, the basic efficiency program could become mandatory if the voluntary program wasn’t working.


These ideas are still open to a lot of discussion and debate, but I think we’re starting from a good place. If everyone works together in a spirit of good faith and cooperation, I know we can develop solutions that will actually make our homes more affordable, keep electric rates lower for the entire community and put us on strong footing as we enter a shifting energy economy.


I appreciate your interest in this issue and look forward to hearing your input.




Will Wynn

Austin Mayor

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