Berkeley City Council revises energy-saving ordinance in light of residents’ concerns

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Berkeley City Council voted last week to revise a proposed ordinance mandating energy audits of city properties due to community concerns about how the measure would affect residential property owners.

An earlier version of the policy, which is called the Building Energy Saving Ordinance, or BESO, passed in a preliminary vote at a council meeting in November. The ordinance would have required residential and commercial building owners to conduct and disclose an assessment of potential energy and cost-saving opportunities either when the building is sold or by a set date.

The revision exempts residential properties of four units or less from this requirement so that these properties would only need to be assessed when sold.  It includes a provision that the council will reconsider within three years whether to apply the requirement to these buildings.

The costs of energy assessments for homes of up to four units range from $200 to $600, depending on the size of the building, according to a city report. Council members and community members have expressed concern that these assessments would place the burden on homeowners without having given enough public notice.

The Berkeley Energy Commission held community workshops on the item from March to June last year, but community members, including some who spoke at the Jan. 27 meeting, still called outreach insufficient.

“There was a lot of outcry from the community,” said Councilmember Susan Wengraf. “Very few people knew about it.”

Other questions included whether the cost of performing an energy assessment would put some homeowners under financial strain. BESO does provide an exemption for those who cannot afford an audit. Councilmember Max Anderson, however, still expressed concern, advising extra outreach and education efforts to residents.

“We can’t just assume that everybody will take this additional expense in stride,” Anderson said at the meeting.

In addition to requiring energy assessments — which do not mandate energy upgrades but are intended to give property owners the tools and incentives to become more efficient — the energy ordinance does away with existing energy and water-energy upgrade requirements, which, according to city staff, are out of date.

The energy ordinance is designed to replace the requirements of the city’s Residential and Commercial Energy Conservation ordinances, which mandate efficiency measures at the time a building is sold or significantly remodeled.

According to a city report, these ordinances are “inadequate” for meeting the goals of Berkeley’s Climate Action Plan, which aims to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 2000 levels by 2050 and by 33 percent below 2000 levels by 2020.

Under the conservation ordinances that BESO would replace, only about 3 percent of Berkeley properties are obligated annually to comply with the requirements due to sale or remodel, the report said.

Melissa Wen is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @melissalwen.