Wash. Governor delays new building code improvements

The Washington State Building Code Council has acceded to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s request to delay economically beneficial improvements to the state’s energy code.

The actions – Gregoire’s request and the Council’s June 11 acquiescence – send the utterly false message that better energy efficiency is bad for homeowners. In fact, the code improvements now put on hold will save homeowners far more money than the improvements will cost, no matter what the Building Industry Association of Washington says.

One year ago, Gov. Gregoire directed the Council to improve the State Energy Code to achieve a 30% reduction in energy use compared to the 2006 code. The Council responded positively, adopting a new code aimed at increasing energy efficiency in new homes by 18% to 26%.

Six months ago, in a letter to legislators, the governor denied a request to delay implementation of the new code, correctly noting that the energy and cost savings are good for consumers and the economy.

But on June 8, the governor delivered a different message. In a startling reversal, she asked the Building Code Council to delay code implementation nine months, from July 1, 2010, to April 2011. She seems to have based her decision on false claims from some homebuilders that the new code will stifle economic recovery. In fact, the new energy code is good for the economy: It makes home ownership more affordable by saving new homeowners hundreds of dollars a year in energy bills.

On June 11, the Building Code Council met to consider the governor’s request. Representatives of the NW Energy Coalition, labor unions, the City of Seattle and the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance attended the session and spoke in support of maintaining the code. They provided proof that:

  • Jobs versus energy savings is a false choice. In fact, this code will save consumers more per month in energy bills than it will add in house payments. Lower energy bills mean more money stays in the local economy.
  • Delaying the code hurts consumers and the economy. Annual energy bills for every home built under the new code will be about $300 less than for homes built to existing standards. That’s money that could be spent supporting local businesses and creating jobs.
  • Delaying the code will cost all of us more later. Utilities and regional energy planners are counting on these energy savings. Energy codes are among the cheapest, most certain and most effective ways to save energy. Postponing the code results in lost opportunities; once a building is constructed, it is expensive and often impossible to achieve the same level of energy efficiency in a future retrofit.

The Council did some of what the governor asked and left the door open for a full nine-month delay. It delayed the implementation three months through so-called “emergency rulemaking,” though the emergency is far from clear. It then entered into a standard rulemaking process to consider extending the delay until April of 2011. Public hearings for the longer delay will happen in the fall.

Through it all, the governor and the Council ignore the fact that all Washington residents benefit when money that would have gone to pay higher energy bills remains in local communities, creating jobs.

The governor’s and Building Code Council’s decision perpetuates the myth that we must choose between energy savings and jobs, even though analysis by the governor’s own staff shows the code is cost effective.

Public-interest advocates are now working on ways to dispel this damaging myth. As Gregoire has said on numerous occasions – and as analysis by her own staff has shown — energy efficiency is good for the economy, saves money and cuts greenhouse gas emissions.