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Council to vote on revised energy reduction ordinance

Thursday, April 21, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

At today’s meeting, the City Council is set to consider changes to an ordinance that would require owners of certain apartment complexes to dramatically reduce their energy consumption.

 

The Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure ordinance originally required highest-energy-use multifamily residences to reduce consumption by 20 percent within 18 months. However, Council delayed voting on the ordinance after complaints by the Austin Apartment Association that renovations to satisfy that requirement could be cost prohibitive for some multifamily owners.

 

In the reworded ordinance, staff added a safe-harbor provision that would allow variances for cases where reducing energy consumption by 20 percent would present a “hardship.” In addition, staff extended conservation audits to condominiums as well as multifamily residences.

 

Austin Energy Public Information Officer Ed Clark told In Fact Daily that there are 935 properties within the city that are currently required to audit their energy use.

The safe-harbor variance would apply to owners who find they “cannot reduce their energy use by 20 percent without changing the air conditioning systems or windows, and/or if they find that in doing any improvements they are going to run into an asbestos problem, those are things they do not have to do, and therefore they can get a waiver,” said Clark.

At Tuesday’s work session, Mayor Lee Leffingwell worried that the waiver would be “forever.”

“Well, it wouldn’t be waived forever,” said Austin Energy attorney Andy Perny. “It would be waived under the current ordinance, but there’s nothing to prevent subsequent ordinance changes to tighten that up.”

Perny told Council that at the Electric Utility Commission meeting the previous night, staff had heard from members of the Austin Tenant Association, who were not entirely happy with the language of the ordinance and had requested additional disclosure language as a compromise.

“As it is right now, a high energy use facility has to post the results of their audit where prospective tenets can see it. They’d like to hear that language beefed up a bit,” said Perny.

Clark confirmed that language establishing disclosure practices to tenants and potential tenants would be included in the ordinance presented to Council today, though it was not in the draft presented at Tuesday’s work session.

“They would have to tell their renters that they received a variance because it was impossible to bring the building into compliance by meeting the 20 percent reduction,” said Clark. “Exactly how these wordings will be exactly remains to be seen, but that is the gist of it.”

“The statement also has to say in some form that the prospective renter can expect to have high utility bills,” said Clark

Council Member Laura Morrison said it is important to bring down energy usage at these properties both to help conserve natural resources and to bring down energy charges.

“They are a good portion of our affordable rental stock, and so we need to find that balance where we bring them down but don’t force them to do so much that it’s no longer financially feasible and they just decide it’s better to tear them down and build high cost apartments instead,” said Morrison.

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