After concerns about a pair of programs included in Keene’s draft energy plan stalled its adoption, the committee that put the plan together took time to discuss those misgivings Wednesday, though it made no changes to the proposal.
The city’s Energy and Climate Committee discussed two programs — home energy labeling and benchmarking — both of which are designed to increase transparency about energy consumption for prospective buyers and renters. At the Keene City Council’s meeting Dec. 17, two councilors said they had been approached by constituents who were worried what these programs might mean for them.
With home energy labeling, the idea is to have people provide the city with information about a home — such as its age, size and type of heating/cooling systems in use — to help determine the building’s energy efficiency. Benchmarking is a little more straightforward and involves building owners simply reporting their actual energy consumption.
The plan states that the programs would require this information to be made available any time a building is sold or a unit is rented. However, the plan recommends the city initially implement the programs on a voluntary basis before eventually making them mandatory, Brunner noted.
“The main thing that people have to realize is that this really isn’t going to cost landlords or homeowners anything other than the ... initial process for getting the labeling done,” energy committee Chairman Peter Hansel said during Wednesday’s meeting. “But it does give the renters or the prospective buyers of those homes a way of assessing whether that home is energy efficient.”
The council voted 13-2 to send the plan back to its Planning, Licenses and Development Committee for further discussion. That committee had voted unanimously Dec. 9 to recommend the council adopt the plan — which aims for everyone in the city to transition to renewable sources for electric energy by 2030 and for heating and transportation energy by 2050.
“[Councilors] mentioned that they had heard from members of the public who had just heard about home energy labeling for the first time and didn’t really understand what it was and they were concerned that it might increase costs for homeowners,” City Planner Mari Brunner, who worked closely with the energy committee to develop the plan, said at the energy committee’s meeting Wednesday morning. “The decision to send the plan back to [the PLD] committee was really intended to give people a little more time to learn about the program and get comfortable with the idea.”
Keene’s long-term objectives stem from a set of nonbinding goals set by the council in January 2019. The energy committee was then formed and tasked with delivering a roadmap for achieving these goals to the council by the end of 2020.
The two programs that drew some concerns are similar, Brunner explained. Home energy labeling generally applies to single- or two-family homes or rentals with four or fewer units, while benchmarking applies to larger rentals and commercial buildings.
The Planning, Licenses and Development Committee is set to take up the energy plan again on Jan. 13, and Brunner said she hopes anyone with concerns about it will tune in and learn more about what is being proposed. That committee will weigh whether to recommend any changes to the plan before sending it back to the full council.
If the council does adopt the plan, it will have to take further actions to implement individual parts of it, said Assistant City Manager Rhett Lamb, who has also been working closely with the energy committee.
“[The plan] will get a lot of further review before it goes into play,” he said.