Montpelier Weighs Energy Standards For Residential, Commercial Property

Mar 4, 2019

Montpelier voters will consider a charter change on Town Meeting Day that would allow the city to set minimum efficiency standards for commercial and residential properties.

Montpelier has a “net-zero” goal -  it wants collectively to have zero CO2 emissions that contribute to climate change by 2030. Mayor Anne Watson said to achieve that, buildings in the capital need to get more energy efficient.

The city can already set energy efficiency requirements for new construction. This ordinance would allow new standards to be applied to existing buildings.

“Forty percent of Montpelier’s housing units are rentals,” Watson said. “And that is just such a tough situation when thinking about energy, because really renters have no agency when it comes to making improvements to the assets of their home.”

And owners would need a disclosure statement showing the structure’s energy consumption. Watson said that could cost about $250.

"I mean you wouldn't buy a car without knowing the gas mileage. And so, why would you buy a house without knowing a standardized energy profile?" - Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson

“I mean you wouldn’t buy a car without knowing the gas mileage,” she said. “And so, why would you buy a house without knowing a standardized energy profile?”

A wood-fired, district heating system is part of Montpelier's plan to have zero net CO2 emissions by 2030.
Credit Kirk Carapezza / VPR

But there’s been pushback to the proposal. Property owners have complained about government overreach on the city’s Front Porch Forum page. Tim Heney, a Montpelier realtor and property owner, told the city council last month that the ordinance was rushed.

“The city council hasn’t shared any proposed policies or ordinances that they have in mind, so there’s been no public discussion about this issue,” he said in an interview. “I think everyone favors energy efficiency, I don’t think they’ll have any problem with this passing, but I think the electorate doesn’t really know what they’re voting for. I think it’s clearly been pushed through on a fast track.”

"The city council hasn't shared any proposed policies or ordinances that they have in mind, so there's been no public discussion about this issue." - Tim Heney, Montpelier Realtor

Heney said there are more pressing issues with the city’s aging housing stock, such as antiquated wiring, that poses a public safety hazard.

“A lot of the homes were created around the turn of the century, like around 1900 turn of the century,” he said. “And with that, we find there’s a constant issue in real estate brokerage with the number of properties that we deal with where there’s still active knob and tube wiring.”

Heney said the legislature has worked for several years on energy standards for buildings, so it would make sense to wait for a statewide system before Montpelier develops its own.

Watson said the city council will take its time developing its ordinance. But she says the efficiency standards are essential to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“One of the biggest contributors to our carbon footprint in Vermont is the energy use in buildings. So the first step beyond, really before, looking at renewables, is to weatherize and make sure buildings are energy efficient,” she said.

Watson said city officials would also like to develop financial incentives for homeowners and landlords to make energy efficiency improvements.