Blog: Leg Update #2: The Buzz about Buildings

This week at the legislature may be the calm before the storm, at least for clean air and energy votes. So, while we’ve been waiting for a flurry to begin, we’ve been doing some important work behind the scenes.

But first, here’s the little bit of action from this past week:

·      A bill to extend a $1,000 state tax credit for electric vehicles and to incentivize other cleaner vehicles, from Rep. Steve Handy (R-Layton), passed the House Transportation committee this week 8-3. This bill, HB87 – Clean Fuel Conversion Amendments now moves for consideration to the House floor. The really good news is that if this bill passes, we won’t have to fight for EV tax credits for another three years. (The previous program expired every other year.)

What’s up next week? Well, they only issue schedules a day or so ahead, so we’re only certain about one bill. And that is:

·       HB244, “Independent Energy Producer Amendments,” by Rep. Francis Gibson (R-Mapleton), a bill that would legalize a type of solar lease called a Power Purchase Agreement, is up for its first vote in front of a House Committee.  The bill would allow a popular leasing model, used by companies like Vivint Solar and Solar City, to make solar more affordable for a wider range of customers. To support the bill, you can go to Monday’s House Public Utilities and Technology Committee meeting at 3:40 pm in room 450 of the State Capitol. Or click here to urge your legislator to support HB244.

Looking back over the past week, perhaps the most interesting happenings have taken place offline. Here’s what you didn’t see:

The ground is continuously shifting beneath our feet when it comes to our work pushing for the 2015 update of Utah’s building codes. We’re hearing that Rep. Brad Wilson’s (R-Kaysville) Building Code Review and Adoption Amendments bill (no text yet), a bill that we have opposed in the past because it delays how often Utah would update its building codes, is changing.

Significantly, we’ve learned that Rep. Wilson intends to add in a mandate requiring ultra-low NOx water heaters, which is of course one of HEAL’s top priorities – and a critical step we need to take towards cleaning up our air for decades to come.

Although the language has yet to be released, we’ve heard that the bill also includes the 2015 building code updates, as recommended by the Uniform Building Code Commission (UBCC) – Another good thing. Although rumor has it, it won’t be quite the full suite of recommendations. To understand what’s been left out we need to really delve deep.

In particular, it deals with a software package that is used by homebuilders and contractors, called REScheck. This software makes it simple to gauge compliance with energy codes.  Basically, it allows for some flexibility in how the building codes can be applied, while still remaining under compliance. For example, this software allows for a home to be built with thicker walls, but a less efficient furnace, to meet the compliance target.

What the UBCC had recommended is that homes must be built to 10% ABOVE REScheck. This means that homes will be made more efficient than the software baseline. What Rep. Wilson has changed is essentially this number – dropping it to only 4-5% above REScheck. So, what this boils down to is a less strict efficiency standard for homebuilders, although still one better than we have now.

All of this – and again, it’s not certain till we see the bill language – leave us at HEAL a bit confused and conflicted. It appears Wilson’s bill will include one bad thing (delaying how often we do our next code update), one good thing (the water heater mandate) and one OK thing (accepting roughly half of the 2015 building code update.)

What’s a principled clean air group to do? One thing for sure, we intend to continue to push for improvements to this bill. But, we’d still prefer these issues be addressed on their own merits. That’s why we’re still pushing for Rep. Redd’s (R-Logan) HB250 cleaner burning water heater bill and Rep. Cox’s (R-West Valley City) HB121 which implements the full building code update. Expect updates – and a plea for help — in the week to come.

That’s it for now! As always,  you can  check out our Bill Tracker to see what we’re, well, tracking. And, also as always, please just email me back if you’re interested in doing any face-to-face citizen lobbying. It’s interesting and fun, I promise.

 Kind regards,

 Ashley Soltysiak | Senior Policy Associate