There is an ongoing friendly competition between San Antonio and Austin about who is the greenest city in Texas. Austin passed a plastic and paper bag ordinance and now San Antonio is discussing a similar provision: CPS Energy set a 20 percent renewable goal, but then Austin Energy set a 35% renewable goal by 2020; Austin set a 100 MW solar goal, then raised it to 200 MWs by 2020, but then CPS Energy signed a contract for 400 MWs of solar with OCI Solar, and the competition goes on.
In the area of Energy Codes, in 2009 the City of San Antonio passed a building code ordinance that not only adopted the 2009 IECC codes, but included a series of amendments that improve the energy efficiency above the 2009 IECC, such as cool roofs (Energy Star Certified) on all new buildings with low slopes (2:12 or less). San Antonio also incorporated water efficiency into the amendments. Finally, San Antonio agreed to review and update their codes every three years toward a goal of net-zero carbon homes and commercial buildings by 2030. Similarly, Austin Energy and the City of Austin also adopted 2009 IECC codes with some good local amendments and set an aggressive goal of making new homes “Net-Zero Energy Capable” by 2015, meaning that all new homes — with the addition of a solar PV system — could produce as much energy on an annual basis that they use, even as they too continually updated their base energy codes.
I’m here to report that based on recent events, Austin seems to be winning the race to get to net-zero energy homes more quickly than San Antonio. Austin Energy has developed a new code for all commercial and residential buildings that not only adopts the International Energy Conservation Code of 2012, but makes a series of local amendments on things like attic insulation, “cool” roofs, and commissioning of commercial buildings that makes the Austin code the most energy efficient in the state.
A public meeting was held today, June 6th, on the proposed codes at City Council and there was no opposition, with both Sierra Club and Environment Texas signing up in support. City Council adopted the new codes unanimously and they will go into effect in the fall. While Austin is still short of its 2015 goal, it’s moving in the right direction, and the homebuilding, commercial and multi-family developers are generally supportive.
San Antonio is taking a slower approach. While the 2012 IECC was published in early 2012, analyzed by the Energy Systems Laboratory at Texas A & M, and recommended to state officials as significantly better than the 2009 Code adopted by San Antonio and most major cities, the Citys’ Development Services has not recommended adoption just yet. Instead, Development Services and the City’s Sustainability Office has reconvened the Stakeholder Sustainable Building Committee (SSBC), which has already held a series of meetings that include participation from Sierra Club staff.
The SSBC has produced an excellent draft report showing that the 2009 Energy Codes adopted by San Antonio have been successful. Based on an admittedly small sample size, the draft report shows homes built in San Antonio since 2010 have been some 20 to 28 percent more energy efficient than base 2000 Codes, and that fully half of the homes built in San Antonio have met “Energy Star” or “Build San Antonio Green.” Both programs are certified to be 15% above the current San Antonio required energy codes.
Despite the positive news on the impact of the 2009 codes in San Antonio, the Committee at this point has not made a recommendation on adoption of the 2012 codes. In part they are on a slower timeline, wanting to determine whether the state — through the State Energy Conservation Office and the Comptroller of Public Accounts — will adopt the 2012 Code as the minimum state code, and also assess the development of the 2015 IECC codes, which are undergoing discussions this year. Moreover, many city officials are wary of adopting a new code after the previous code only went into effect a few years ago. The SSBC is scheduled to hold a series of additional meetings but reconvene in the fall to discuss possible approaches.
Sierra Club, Lone Star Chapter, local citizens and others, including Environment Texas, have been engaged in these discussions and is urging the SSBC and the City of San Antonio to go ahead and adopt 2012 IECC for both commercial and residential now, with appropriate local amendments, rather than waiting for the state to act, or the 2015 codes to be developed. The codes have been analyzed, have been adopted in numerous cities, and training is available from the Energy Systems Lab. We look forward to working with the committee, the Mayor’s office, and the San Antonio community to make this happen.
Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director, Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club