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Energy Recommendations Include Renovation Restrictions

by ARLnow.com September 21, 2010 at 10:03 am 2,535 16 Comments

A task force convened by the county board has released its list of preliminary recommendations for reducing carbon-based energy consumption in Arlington.

The ambitious and sometimes ambiguous recommendations range from tax incentives for energy efficiency to installing 160 megawatts worth of solar electricity generating capacity to migrating high density neighborhoods to district energy systems (centralized heating and cooling plants serving numerous buildings).

One recommendation that may receive particular resident scrutiny is a requirement that all new home renovations, starting in 2015, must prove a 30 percent gain in energy efficiency (over today’s average). Likewise, all new commercial building renovations must prove that the work will provide a 50 percent gain in efficiency.

As for new development, new houses will need to prove 30 percent higher efficiency than current code starting in 2015. On the commercial side, “new construction planning requests will also be expected to include a narrative regarding how they will meet the higher levels of efficiency. Incentives may be provided to developers in exchange for higher energy performance.

How would the new efficiency rules be enforced? It’s unclear. The Sun Gazette noted that during a public task force meeting on Friday, “all seemed to agree the that biggest challenge [is] determining how to turn the proposals into concrete applications.”

The recommendations will be discussed at a public community energy forum, to be held at Wakefield High School one month from today (from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. on October 21).

The county board could take action to implement some of the community energy plan recommendations as soon as April 2011.

Flickr pool photo by Alykat.

  • cj

    The key question is: 30 percent better than what? There’s no current set of energy efficiency standards for homes that I’m aware of. Will we have to do an energy audit before starting a project? Will replacement materials — windows, insulation, appliances — be given generic efficiency values? This is well-intentioned but raises all sorts of practical problems even for those who are inclined to cooperate.

    • It’s 30 percent over today’s average, according to the document. (I’ve now clarified that in the article.) Take “today’s average” as you will.

      • Burger

        Again, the question should be average of what? New homes? older homes? new windows? old windows? Besides this still has to get past Richmond which I give that no chance of succeeding.

        • Lou

          They have pulled greenhouse gas emission numbers from 2007 from somewhere, probably Department of Energy figures, and applied them across the county for a per resident per year baseline. Then they came up with the 30 and 50 percent numbers out of thin air for all I know.

          So it’s not so much about how much electricity people use or how often they run the dishwasher, it’s how does much GHG gets produced by everything combined.

          There’s good data on this blog: http://bit.ly/b6HqF8

          I think the boldest step in the plan is the district-energy model being applied in Arlington.

          • Jezebel

            “For all you know,” Lou? Really? If people actually review the extensive material on the website, you’d see methodology and data galore.

  • Sgt. Hartman

    I think the Dillon Rule may apply here. Localities cannot do anything the Virginia code does not expressly permit.

  • Joey

    I agree. For better or worse, I think Arlington’s going to get a law suit on their hands if they enforce this. Virginia courts have been loathe to leave localities with any flexibility for pro-environmental regulations in their zoning power.

  • Let’s Be Free

    We already are at least 30 percent better than average. We have multiple sources of heat and air conditioning, heat or cool only a portion of the house at a time and know how to use the off switches. And four years ago we replaced our 1930’s era oil-fueled boiler with a modern clean burning natural gas model.

    Yet, these new requirements would nevertheless cost someone like me $10,000 or more for the privelege to renovate (i.e., get a building permit). Enough of these pointy headed central planning controls, enough. We need to get rid of these nanny-state life-style dictators.

  • Penalizes those who have been building efficiently, and rewards those who have been building wastefully. 30% better than my current energy consumption – you have to be kidding. We havent run our dryer in 6 months – opting instead for our solar power laundry dryer (laundry line). Well I guess I could resort to kerosene lamps to get that electricity bill down.

  • PMK

    The County Government only can enforce this through the site plan process. If it is a by right development, they have no leverage. On the commercial side, the leverage they have is bonus density. To achieve the goals they set forth, the County Board will need to approve density levels in the commercial corridors above what they do now. It will be interesting to see if the communities adjacent to or part of commercial districts (R-B corridor, the Pike) will accept increased density to achieve “green” goals.

    • cj

      There are already high expections for green elements of site plan projects, with the main incentive being the likelihood of getting the project approved. For by right development, the county has been able to rachet up some requirements, such as runoff control and tree canopy replacement, but only after making a very strong case and finding some support in state law.

  • I continue to believe that the best thing local and state government can do is remove obstacles to the free market system. I visited the first “net-zero enregy” house being built in Virginia and talked to the builder about the bureaucratic obstacles (zoning, inspecting, permits, bank loan rules, insurance, etc.) that made the project difficult. The technology obstacles were relatively minor. Instead of a new layer of regulations, local governments need to be looking at how they can get out the way.

  • Pingback: County energy plan would squeeze homeowners « ArlingtonGOP()

  • AJ

    “all new home renovations, starting in 2015, must prove a 30 percent gain in energy efficiency (over today’s average).”

    this raises entirely too many questions. what will constitute a new home renovation? would something like redoing the kitchen apply? a certain percentage overhaul? and standardizing the gain to a % over today’s average penalizes those in older homes that may have an energy efficiency far below today’s average.

    sounds like a very good way to discourage people from renovating older homes. which would be a pity, as any gain in energy efficiency should be encouraged, even if it’s below 30% higher than today’s average.

    sounds like the county is letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    • Jezebel

      The words “prove” and “restrictions” are the ArlNow reporter’s choice of words, not the Energy Plan’s. There is nothing in the draft recommendations that indicates this would be a requirement. Rather, as on-going discussions and forums have revealed, this is a target for the aggregate of buildings (not every single one) as they are renovated. Essentially, the energy plan’s recommendations seek to raise expectations, while identifying tools and resources for people to pursue and meet these raised expectations.

  • Thanks so much for the link to Phil Keating’s post on our blog Lou.

    @Sgt Hartman – Dillon’s Rule could indeed be a major issue here. You can expect the county in implementation to argue the requirements are voluntarily accepted via the site plan process.

    @Joey – the lawsuit question likely depends on cost/benefit.

    We may be looking at many of these requirements kicking in over time in the building codes. Model code agencies are starting to create green building codes that phase in increased energy efficiency. There are some rumblings at the federal level, although the current political landscape and the economy may make passage of climate change legislation something for a future date.

    @bArlington – not sure how it penalizes anyone who has already taken efficiency measures. I think the “average” they are talking about for renovations is collective, not your specific house.

    There are definitely a lot of issues to unravel in here, and this could really dramatically impact county projects in the future. Folks can expect us to keep talking about this at our blog too regularly:



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