NC House seeks rollback of building energy codes

Chris Kardish, Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- A bill rolling back energy-efficiency standards for commercial builders passed a North Carolina House committee Monday.

Supporters of the bill that cleared the House Commerce Committee argued it will lower construction costs for the state's commercial builders by clearing out directives that require them to meet a 2012 standard adopted by state regulators.

The bill would revert energy conservation codes to 2009 standards, which are 30 percent lower than today's energy-use benchmarks.

The North Carolina Building Code Council adopts rules modeled after the International Building Code's International Energy Conservation Code, which is updated every three years. The state Council is allowed to use the international code as guidance but doesn't have to adopt it. To meet these codes, builders use exterior and interior materials that help conserve energy.

The bill originally applied to residential builders as well, but the North Carolina Home Builders Association opposed a return to 2009 standards. The group secured a compromise with the Building Code Council that kept the increased efficiency standards to 15 percent in exchange for relaxed rules elsewhere that effectively offset the added construction costs, said Mike Carpenter, the Home Builders' lobbyist.

Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, said he's seen the standards deter commercial builders from taking over vacant buildings left over from the state's textile boom because it would cost too much to bring them up to code.

"I think we need to have as few restrictions as possible," he said. "It's killing people in Gaston County."

Dave Simpson, lobbyist for the Carolinas Associated General Contractors, said there's some division within his group about rolling back standards for commercial builders, but the bill could drive down costs for construction significantly.

"I know a lot of builders who say they could build a lot more without these 30 percent energy-efficiency regulations," he said.

Lining up to speak against the bill were people representing businesses that manufacture materials for energy-efficient construction.

D'Lane Wisner, a spokesman for the American Chemistry Council, said North Carolina is the 10th largest chemical-producing state in the country, employing 41,000 people, many of whom make products such as insulation and energy-efficient materials.

"It will cause our state to miss out on significant energy conservation and will put North Carolina in the bottom tier for states in energy efficiency," he said.

Joining industry representatives was Rep. Andy Wells, R-Catawba and a real-estate developer. He said the bill would be a mistake because people in his profession weigh the costs of having to adapt to change and the code isn't much more than a year old.

"From a philosophical point of view, there's no conservative argument to change this to 2009," he said. "Either we leave it alone or we eliminate the energy code completely."

The bill now heads to the House Regulatory Reform Committee. It will need approval from the full House and Senate.