Hadley climate panel balks at toughening energy rules in building code

  

  

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 01-25-2024 11:11 AM

HADLEY — A specialized state energy code that would require newly constructed homes using fossil fuels to have both on-site solar arrays and be wired to become all-electric in the future is not yet being recommended for adoption in Hadley.

Though both Northampton and Amherst last year became the first area communities to adopt the Massachusetts Municipal Opt-in Specialized Stretch Energy Code, the Climate Change Committee in Hadley is hesitating on advising the Select Board to bring the measure to Town Meeting for potential adoption.

At a meeting earlier this month, Chris Mason, regional coordinator for the state’s Department of Energy Resources, and Arthur Pakatar, an energy code specialist from PSD Consulting, presented details about the opt-in energy code and how it goes beyond the stretch code, which Hadley is obligated to follow after becoming the second-to-last Green Community in Hampshire County last fall.

Mason said the opt-in code would bring all new homes closer to being net-zero-energy homes, and help Massachusetts toward meeting its goal of 50% greenhouse gas emissions reduction from 1990 levels by 2030.

“Whether we adopt the specialized code or not, the stretch code is going to, over the next few years, update to that anyway,” said Kathy Nelson, who co-chairs the Climate Change Committee.

Nelson said she wasn’t inclined to try to push the town to the more stringent code.

But Jack Czajkowski, the other committee co-chair, said he wants more information.

“I think we need to learn more,” Czajkowski said “I don’t know if this is where the town will end up, but we can keep exploring.”

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Committee member Michael Docter said the work would be difficult. “It just seems like it would take a lot of effort to try to move the ball just a little tiny bit forward,” Docter said.

Already, the Home Energy Rating System, or HERS Index, is becoming more stringent for both homes and commercial buildings. For a Green Community like Hadley, Pakatar said the HERS rating this summer will be 42, identical to the opt-in energy code’s HERS rating. He explained the kind of building techniques that will be needed to meet this, acknowledging it will be a challenge.

“It’s going to take very good air sealing, it’s going to be a very good heating system, heat pumps are almost a foregone conclusion (and) high efficiency water systems. A very tight building and probably triple-pane windows, to get there,” Pakatar said.

The opt-in energy code would go beyond this by requiring wiring for future electrification and solar photovoltaics for homes 4,000 square feet and under. New homes over 4,000 square feet would have to immediately be net zero in their energy use.

Mason said the upfront costs for construction go up but long-term costs go down, including for affordable housing developments, where residents would see lower monthly energy bills.

There are also financial incentives being offered by the state to build these close to net-zero-energy homes.

Still, Building Commissioner Tom Quinlan told the committee that adopting the opt-in code isn’t right at the moment. “I would hope Hadley would not do the opt-in yet, not that any of it’s bad,” Quinlan said.

He explained that contractors are already having trouble getting their projects to a HERS 52 rating — 10 points more than the present code requires — which means homes about 48% more efficient than homes built to base code. He anticipates more challenges for contractors when the requirement becomes a HERS 42 rating this summer.

“I have contractors who can’t make the (HERS) 52,” Quinlan said. “It’s going to be a tough July of this year.”

So far this year, just two building permits for homes have been pulled, he said, even though the town averages 12 new homes per year, though this may be attributed to higher interest rates that have slowed new construction.

Meanwhile, some of those attending the Jan. 11 meeting questioned comments made by Select Board member Jane Nevinsmith, the liaison to the committee, at a Board of Health meeting on Nov. 9. At that time, she characterized several residents as interfering with the committee’s work, saying a “whole group of people sit in that room and try to disrupt that meeting and make sure nothing can happen.”

Tony Fyden of Cold Spring Lane said that is untrue. “No one has ever said that climate change is not happening,” Fyden said.

“We’ve never disrupted. That’s a serious accusation,” Fyden said.

Another resident, Susan Melchin, also complained.

“You should not be able to use your public position to make disparaging comments about those who do not automatically and unconditionally agree with your thoughts,” Melchin said. “The public should be able to ask questions without being portrayed as disruptive or naysayers.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.