RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- A bill rolling back energy-efficiency standards for commercial builders passed a North Carolina Senate committee Tuesday.
The Senate Commerce Committee endorsed a bill that backers say will spur construction by eliminating the 2012 codes in favor of 2009 standards, which are 30-percent lower than today's energy-use benchmarks. Democratic lawmakers and other critics argued the bill would jeopardize long-term energy savings in favor of limited short-term benefits and harm producers of efficient building materials.
The House already adopted a similar bill. The Senate version, which makes minor changes, will now head to the full body.
The North Carolina Building Code Council adopts rules modeled after the International Code Council's 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.
Legislative staff, citing an Appalachian State University study, said that the newer energy codes will save about $2 billion over 30 years while adding up to $900 million in new construction costs. A pool of about $22 million in federal energy grants for private businesses and public entities could be affected by the change, according to legislative staff.
Democratic lawmakers said they're concerned about missing out on federal grants, considering the Department of Energy has already informed the state that it's out of date on energy efficiency. They argued that scrapping the entire code puts cost savings cited in the Appalachian State study at risk and asked for a compromise that keeps the newer standards in place in some fashion.
"We have to look at this as a whole and net it out," said Josh Stein, D-Wake.
Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, said those grants are merely incentives, and his chief concern is helping the construction industry out of its protracted slump.
"If it makes you feel a little bit better just don't think of the word 'repeal,'" he said. "Think about the word 'readopt' the 2009 code, and that should make you feel a little bit better."
Environmental groups and interest groups for the energy-efficient materials industry note that the 2009 benchmarks were created by the International Code Council years before they were eventually adopted by North Carolina, so reverting to the old standard means taking the state back farther than 2009.
There are 41,000 jobs in the state involved with manufacturing and selling energy-efficient building materials, according to D'Lane Wisner of the American Chemistry Council.
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 any effort to minimize costs upfront should help encourage building.