Several Idaho lawmakers are not fans of regulations for energy efficiency in buildings.

A bill passed by the House Business Committee Monday is the latest effort to limit cities’ abilities to enforce energy codes that regulate heating and cooling equipment, lighting and how air-tight a building is.

Ken Burgess, a lobbyist for the Idaho Home Builders Association, said the legislature has historically felt that the energy-specific rules within the state building codes are not relevant to the life and safety of residents. A fire code, on the other hand, is more obviously tied to protecting building users.

“It is not the government’s role to determine or mandate how efficient my furnace ought to be or what kind of light bulbs I ought to be using, because it doesn’t fall under that life-safety kind of standard,” he said.

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Proponents of the energy codes say the highest energy efficiency standards do make buildings safer for occupants and point out that the state is also charged with promoting the “welfare” of those people under the Idaho Building Code Act.

In 2018, the legislature passed a law in an effort to make building codes uniform across the state. But some municipalities already had more stringent rules, so the parties worked out an agreement: the cities could keep the codes they had in place before July 1, 2018, but couldn’t implement any new ones.

Then, last year, when the legislature codified the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code and said local governments could not go above and beyond that, it kept in the language that allowed cities to retain their more stringent codes that were adopted before July 1, 2018.

Burgess and Rep. Joe Palmer (R-Meridian), the sponsor of House Bill 287, say cities are breaking that agreement.

“Now, I think this retroactivity language … at least has resulted in some misinterpretation, others might argue maybe some abuse, of that particular language,” Burgess said.

This legislation alters the “grandfather clause,” which could affect the ability of cities like Boise and those in the Wood River Valley to enforce their pre-existing unique codes.

Burgess listed two examples of cities with new, more stringent energy codes: a “climate mitigation fee,” which is an extra fee for heating a pool or hot tub with natural gas, and a requirement for a garage to be wired for hooking up an electric vehicle.

He did not say which cities had these rules and when they were put in place.

Kathy Griesmeyer, the government affairs director for Boise, said the city only has three more stringent parts of the energy code, and they were all implemented before July 1, 2018. Those allow builders two options for attic insulation, a way for builders to improve a home’s energy efficiency score and a rule for air leakage tests on all new houses.

Boise also announced a new code in 2020 to require high-voltage outlets for electric vehicles in new home construction. Much of the committee discussion focused on electric vehicle chargers.

However, Griesmeyer said Boise’s requirement for those outlets is not part of the energy code – it’s in the electrical code – so it’s not an example of the city breaking the retroactive clause in the energy code legislation.

Burgess said in an interview Tuesday that such codes are a “workaround” and still violate the legislative intent of previous bills. He said that’s why the new bill prohibits local entities not just from adopting energy codes that differ from the state, but also “energy-related requirements through any code, ordinance, process, policy or guidance..”

Griesmeyer and a lobbyist for the Idaho Association of Building Officials said that broad language could have wide-reaching effects, like preventing energy-related outreach.

“If a member of the public were to reach out and ask us questions around energy efficiency standards, would we now be barred from providing suggestions or guidance to the general public?” Griesmeyer asked.

Last fall, the Idaho Building Code Board was considering big cuts to the energy efficiency codes under Gov. Brad Little’s executive order to trim state regulations, but it tabled the changes and could discuss them again at a meeting this week.

On Monday, the committee voted to send the bill to the House floor.

Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information from Ken Burgess.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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