'Home energy scorecard' idea pulled from Senate energy bill

Originally published at MassLive.com

By Mary C. Serreze

BOSTON -- The Massachusetts Senate on June 14 unanimously approved an ambitious green energy bill that contains a smorgasbord of clean tech and climate provisions.

One amendment that did not make the trip would have required "residential energy scorecards" whenever a house is sold. 

Sen. Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow) introduced a scorecard amendment during floor debate, but said it was taken off the table before the Senate voted on the omnibus bill last Thursday night. An amendment from Sen. Joseph Boncore (D-Winthrop) met a similar fate.

Massachusetts Senate passes ambitious clean energy bill

Massachusetts Senate passes ambitious clean energy bill

The bill puts the state on the path to a 100-percent renewable energy target.

Lesser said lawmakers decided to wait for another day, and would continue talks with trade groups that oppose the idea: the Massachusetts Association of Realtors and Greater Boston Real Estate Board.

"We were not able to agree on the substance," said Lesser. "So we hope to be able to meet in the middle."

The real estate organizations said they support a property owner's ability to voluntarily obtain an energy inspection, and support a buyer's ability to inspect a property, but oppose legislation that would mandate energy audits and scores.

In a June 15 statement, the groups said the requirement would interfere with the real estate market, add cost and complicate an already complex transaction. They said energy scores could "stigmatize" certain properties, target homeowners who cannot afford the upgrades, and raise constitutional privacy concerns.

Lesser said "it's a consumer protection issue" and that automakers were once strongly against miles-per-gallon stickers on cars. He said providing information and incentives to button up the state's housing stock would provide broad economic and environmental benefits and help lower-income homeowners who pay high energy bills.

Lesser said the concept has bipartisan support and could be revived before the end of the legislative session on July 31.

Gov. Charlie Baker filed standalone legislation in April that would require home energy scorecard and energy ratings be provided by sellers.

Baker's bill would make property owners get a free energy assessment for their one-to-four-unit home when they list it for sale. It would grade the home on things such as insulation, windows, and heating systems, and direct homeowners to incentives under MassSave and other programs.

The Republican governor said it would be a market-based way to transform the state's housing stock and result in "the reduction of hundreds of thousands of tons of greenhouse gas emissions and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual savings for Massachusetts ratepayers."

Panelists at a recent symposium in Boston did not get into the politics, and shied away from any controversy, but talked about the nuts-and-bolts of potential scorecard implementation.

The program and policy experts said database software could seamlessly integrate energy scorecards with the Multiple Listing Service, meaning no extra work for real estate agents.

"What the Baker administration is trying to do is to start building the infrastructure to deliver the energy scorecards," said Ian Finlayson, a deputy director with the Massachsetts Department of Energy Resources. "And then start working with the MLS to roll out the scorecards at time of sale."

Finlayson visited Europe to see how the program works there, and said talks have been underway in Massachusetts for a decade. He said a pilot program was done in the Springfield area in 2013-2014 involving 3,850 homes.

Hans Erhorn, of the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, helped roll out Germany's "energy performance certificates" in 2007. He said any program in the U.S. must be transparent, consistent, and based in science in order to be trusted. He said that scoring criteria must be continually updated as new building technologies come on line.

Erhorn said there's a difference between "asset evaluation" and "performance evaluation." Two houses could be identical, but have different energy use depending upon household behavior.

Samantha Caputo, with Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, talked about a voluntary program underway in Vermont that uses a database called HELIX, or "home energy labeling information exchange."

"It's meant to be a tool to help transform the real estate market," said Caputo. "We know the residential market in New England accounts for over 20 percent of our carbon emissions."

Alison Brizius, director of Climate and Environmental Planning for the City of Boston, said it's a way for people to "capture value" in the real estate market when they make residential clean energy investments.

"You want to incentivize and reward more efficient homes," she said.

The panel discussion on grid modernization was held at the Fraunhofer USA Center for Sustainable Energy Systems, headquartered in South Boston.

Separately, the real estate groups said mandatory inspections would raise privacy concerns because they would require third-party entry.  

In their June 15 position statement, they said it is "noteworthy" that in Massachusetts, mandatory inspection of a home at the time of sale only happens in two contexts: inspection of a septic system for compliance with Title 5; and inspection for compliance with the smoke detector and carbon monoxide alarm requirements of state law.

"In each of these cases, the inspection is justified by public health and safety interests of that dwelling," the opponents wrote. "By contrast, the inspection of a home for energy efficiency measures would be conducted in the hopes of achieving a governmental goal, not protecting the health or safety of the occupants of that particular dwelling."

If the bill passes, Massachusetts would be the first state in the nation to require home sellers to provide energy scorecards to potential buyers.

Date : 6/22/2018

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