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Public hearing slated Wednesday; proposal is akin to an MPG sticker for cars

When Americans go to an appliance store to buy a refrigerator or dryer, or an auto dealership to shop for a car, posted energy usage or gas mileage stickers let them evaluate the cost of operating their would-be purchase. But there’s no such thing available for the biggest purchase consumers make—a house.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and other city officials want to change that.

On Wednesday, the Portland City Council will consider an innovative proposal to require a Home Energy Score whenever most houses are sold in Portland. The score, which helps buyers get a sense of future electricity and heating bills, uses a system devised by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Home sellers would have to pay roughly $150 to $250 to hire a certified contractor to do a home visit, estimated to take about one hour. The inspector would rate the home on a scale of one to 10 and suggest energy-saving improvements such as insulation, patching leaky ducts and new water heaters or furnaces.  The results would be available to potential home buyers and the general public in an accessible database.

In the long run, the program will aid Portland’s housing affordability crisis by lowering the monthly costs to maintain a home, says Andria Jacob, a senior manager for energy programs at the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. “The benefits outweigh the costs,” she says. “We think base energy costs are a significant monthly expense for homes, and right now this information is completely hidden from the market.” 

Hales, who is championing the proposed policy, reasons it will help shave energy bills in Portland and carbon emissions that lead to climate change.

The city/county Climate Action Plan, which first proposed a similar mandate back in 2009, calls for reducing carbon emissions from buildings 25 percent by 2030. Most of that would have to come from cutting energy use. 

The Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors is leading opposition to the proposed policy. “The mandate is unnecessary, costly, and intrusive,” says Kerri Hartnett, the trade group’s president-elect. “If the City adopts the proposed mandate, they are burdening the seller — and in some circumstances the buyer — with having to pay for the same information available through a home inspection and creating more government bureaucracy and red tape at taxpayer expense.”

In response to concerns raised by critics, city staff have created a deferral for lower-income home sellers who’d have trouble coming up with the $200, Jacob says. In such cases, the home buyers would have to provide the Home Energy Score.

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal, set to start at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday at City Hall. A final City Council vote on the policy is expected on Dec. 7.

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