ViewPoint: A new stretch energy code is not justified

This OpEd appeared in the Boston Business Journal on June 3, 2016.

In March 2015, Governor Charlie Baker signed Executive Order 562, initiating a comprehensive review process for all regulations. Only those regulations which are mandated by law or essential to the health, safety, environment, or welfare of the Commonwealth’s residents would be retained or modified, making Massachusetts a more efficient and competitive place to live and work.

Agencies must demonstrate, in their review, that there is a clearly identified need for governmental intervention; the costs do not exceed the benefits; a regulation does not exceed federal requirements; less restrictive and intrusive alternatives have been considered and found less desirable; and the regulation does not unduly and adversely affect the competitive environment in Massachusetts.

Based on these specific criteria, the business community is concerned that the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS) is currently considering a new Stretch Energy Code as it develops the 9th edition of the statewide building code. Besides the fact that this Stretch Code undermines the statutory requirement that there be a uniform State Building/Energy Code, there is no good reason for it. This proposed energy code is unnecessary and fails the regulatory review standards, and the Baker Administration and the BBRS should not advance it.

The Stretch Energy Code was originally adopted in May 2009, despite strong opposition from the business community.  The code required commercial and residential construction in those communities that voted to adopt it to be approximately 20% more energy efficient than the statewide code. The new stretch energy code would require a 15% increase in energy efficiency over the current code. The Stretch Code has caused confusion among local building inspectors and developers.  Due to this and several other reasons, a new version of the Stretch Energy Code has never been adopted, even when the statewide code changed.  In fact, at the close of the Patrick Administration, the BBRS voted not to advance a new draft of the Stretch Energy Code.  However, in April 2015, this decision was reversed.

Massachusetts is already the most energy efficient state in the nation, with the most aggressive energy efficiency targets.  Furthermore, Massachusetts will be one of only a handful of states in the nation to adopt the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) statewide.  Since the Green Communities Act requires the adoption of the latest IECC (every three years), the Commonwealth’s position as a national leader in energy efficiency will be ensured even without a Stretch Code.  Anything beyond that is overly burdensome and creates a significant competitive disadvantage for Massachusetts.

It is important to note that there is no statutory requirement to adopt or update a Stretch Energy Code.  There is no mention of it in any statute, and it is only the Department of Energy Resources’ (DOER) policy that encourages the creation of this code.

According to DOER, the changes to the Stretch Code would take effect automatically in stretch code communities without any local vote.  Many municipalities had no idea they would be subject to an automatic upgrade.

The business community continues to support a uniform statewide building and energy code.  We believe a new Stretch Energy Code is unnecessary, will hinder economic development, and would impose an unfair and difficult burden on local building officials and the construction industry.  We urge the Baker Administration and the BBRS to eliminate the Stretch Energy Code, once and for all, and acknowledge the latest version of the IECC as the only energy code in Massachusetts.

David Begelfer is the CEO of NAIOP Massachusetts, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association.

State Adopts New Energy Code

On Tuesday, the Board of Building Regulations & Standards (BBRS) voted to adopt the latest version of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), making Massachusetts one of the first states in the nation to have it take effect statewide. This change represents a 20% increase in energy efficiency over the current statewide energy code. Under the Green Communities Act, the Massachusetts state energy code must be updated within one year of any revision to the IECC, so there was a statutory requirement to adopt this code.

The IECC is widely recognized as one of the most energy efficient codes. There is no question there are significant costs and design impacts associated with this code change. The IECC 2012 is approximately equal to the energy efficiency requirements of the stretch energy code, now in place in 131 communities in Massachusetts. Because of the Green Communities Act, Massachusetts will continually be updating its energy code to ensure it has the most energy efficient requirements in the nation.

Yesterday, the Legislature held a hearing on several bills addressing the concept of local option codes. NAIOP strongly opposes such codes, including the stretch energy code. Given that Massachusetts is required to have a very aggressive and energy efficient statewide code, NAIOP does not believe there is a need for a stretch energy code that would go beyond the latest version of the IECC. NAIOP testified in support of legislation that would ensure the IECC would be the energy code for all communities in Massachusetts. It would create one uniform, statewide energy code. By discontinuing the use of two or more energy codes for the state, it eliminates confusion for local building inspectors who are responsible for safely enforcing such codes. The legislation also clarifies that communities could be designated as Green Communities, and eligible for the grants associated with such a designation, by adopting this code. Most importantly, rather than having different requirements in different communities, it puts all communities on a level playing field – helping to ensure the Commonwealth’s competitiveness.

NAIOP will be hosting a special program on the energy code changes later this year and we will continue to push for one, statewide energy code.