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Council delays vote on changes to energy audit program

Friday, April 8, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Council members delayed a vote Thursday on changes to the city’s Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure ordinance. The move came as Mayor Lee Leffingwell called for “further analysis” of a set of recommendations made by the Austin Apartment Association.


New language in the city code would extend the audits – which are designed to give new buyers a snapshot of the energy efficiency of their target homes – to condominiums and commercial properties under 10,000 square feet. Each of those types of structures had been included in the original ordinance, though only commercial buildings that were more than 10,000 square feet are currently subject to the audits.


Victoria Dries of the Austin Apartment Association told the council that she and her group had worked on the ordinance changes with Austin Energy. “We have no problems with the multi-family regulations relating to the energy audits … and we have no problem with completing the cost-effective projects as defined in the ordinance to reach the energy saving goal,” she said.


“Our only concern at this time is (if) after doing the cost-effective energy saving projects we do not reach the goal, are we going to be forced to do very high dollar HVAC replacements and major construction or deconstruction that would not be economically feasible.”


Dries requested a delay so that the Association could talk more with its members about the ordinance changes. She told the council that her group had only just received the most updated version of the document.


Apartment owner Bob Thompson offered language that his organization would like to see included in the ordinance. “What we’re seeking is a safe harbor provision to be added to the ordinance which would immunize cooperating multi-family owners who happen to be high energy users, but who have had an audit and have accomplished all the needed cost-effective energy improvements, but still may not meet the percentage energy reduction goals,” he said.


Thompson also asked for a delay.


According to new language in the ordinance, high energy users cited by the utility must “reduce the per-square-foot energy usage of the facility by 20%” within 18 months of being notified of their status – though there is some flexibility on the time limit. Violators can be fined up to $2,000.


Thompson told the Council that most of the high use apartment buildings were older. “Those kind of properties tend to have asbestos in the popcorn ceilings and lead-based paint,” he said. “It would be extremely expensive if they had to deconstruct the apartment to reach inaccessible ducts – that sort of thing.”


He added that those facilities “tend to cater to lower income individuals.”


“I certainly understand the issues that Mr. Thompson … (has) raised, and I hope that we can get them worked out,” said Council Member Laura Morrison. “Obviously the goal of this is a tremendous goal – to really try to reign in some of the high energy users.”


The council voted 6-0 to delay a vote until April 21. Council Member Sheryl Cole was off the dais.

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