By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — On Nov. 28, a panel of state energy officials, home builders and green energy experts will meet at City Hall to discuss the state’s “Stretch Building Code” and what it would mean for Amesbury if the city adopted it.
Since the City Council announced the bill on Tuesday, many residents have already weighed in, with some expressing concern over the tighter building requirements and the potentially higher costs the code could impose on homebuilders.
City Councilor Christian Scorzoni, one of the bill’s sponsors, said he isn’t surprised by that initial reaction, but noted that there are a lot of facts to consider and recommended that residents attend the Nov. 28 session before deciding whether they think the change is a good idea.
“As a standalone measure this is complicated, and I think there could be an obvious knee-jerk reaction to more regulation,” Scorzoni said. “But there are also resources to accomplish this and a real benefit to the city overall.”
Established in 2009, the Stretch Energy Building Code is an alternative building code that emphasizes energy efficiency and has tighter building requirements for both residential and commercial projects. Communities can choose to adopt the Stretch Code over the state’s standard building code, and the idea is the code will reduce the community’s energy costs in the long run.
Denis Nadeau, the city’s building inspector, said he doesn’t have any opinion on the Stretch Code either way but added that he doesn’t think it is a bad thing. He said the new code wouldn’t have too much of an impact on new homes and that the biggest changes would be for those who remodel their houses.
“In the long run, I think most people will be happy with it,” he said.
So far, 122 communities had adopted the Stretch Code in Massachusetts, including nearby Newburyport, who adopted the code in 2010. The Stretch Code is one of five requirements to earn Green Community designation from the state, and according to Scorzoni, adopting the Stretch Code would be the biggest hurdle toward reaching that goal.
Concerns about added costs relating to the Stretch Code are nothing new. During the 2010 debate in Newburyport, it was estimated that the code requirements could add $10,000 to the cost of building a three-bedroom home.
But what that figure didn’t take into consideration, Scorzoni said, is that in July 2010 the state adopted the International Energy Conservation Code, which greatly reduced the differences between the state code and the Stretch Code.
“What they told me is because of the IECC, the new base code that the state has adopted across the board, there is an increase in cost but it’s more modest than the $10,000,” Scorzoni said. “Because everyone has been brought up to that requirement, the difference is marginal.”
According to Nadeau, an updated IECC will take effect next summer that will close the gap between the two codes even more.
“In June of next year, the state is going to adopt a 2012 IECC energy code, which is going to pretty much bring in the Stretch Code,” Nadeau said. “It isn’t going to be 100 percent, but it’s going to be very close to the existing Stretch Code.”
Over the past few years, Massachusetts has pushed hard to increase energy efficiency. The state’s targets are the most ambitious in the nation, and the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy has ranked Massachusetts No. 1 in the country for energy efficiency for the past two years.
The state’s plan calls for an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas use by 2050 and 25 percent by 2020, and the Stretch Code is one way the state is trying to make that happen.
In order to reach these goals, the state has established numerous financial incentives for communities to go green. For instance, communities that have Green Community designation get extra consideration when applying for state grant money, and if Amesbury were to receive Green Community designation, the city would become eligible for millions of dollars in renewable energy grants that aren’t available for non-green communities.
Scorzoni added that if Amesbury were to receive Green Community designation, it would also receive a $150,000 check from the state right off the bat.
Beyond all of the short-term gains and the long-term savings, Scorzoni said the biggest reason to look into the Stretch Code was simply to stay ahead of the curve.
“There’s a certain inevitability about some of this stuff,” Scorzoni said. “We recognize it’s not an easy issue, but we’re trying to look ahead at the big picture.”