West Tisbury will discuss green building codes on January 18

Ralph Stewart

The West Tisbury selectmen have asked the West Tisbury Energy Committee (WTEC) to begin the qualification process for designation by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) as a Green Community, which would make available state funding for energy projects. The Green Communities Act signed by the governor in 2008 provides up to $10 million per year in technical and financial help to participating communities through the DOER. Adoption of Green Community standards may be put to voters in April.

A Green Community must meet five standards. The most stringent requires is that the town adopt building regulations to comply with the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS) “stretch code” for new residential and commercial construction. The code may also apply to major renovations. The stretch code is a more rigorous permitting and inspection process than the BBRS “base code” now in effect, and DOER projects the stretch code to achieve 20 percent better energy efficiency. The BBRS estimates that the stretch code will increase the cost of new construction by about $3,000 for a typical single family home and by one to three percent for commercial buildings.

“Over a 30-year mortgage, [The increased energy efficiency] would result in net savings to the homeowner in the first year. . . that are larger than the increase in mortgage payments from construction and financing costs. . . Case studies of commercial buildings . . . have shown paybacks of 1 to 2 years, when standard incentives from electrical utilities are included in the benefit costs, according to estimates,” according to BBRS estimates.

New homes built under the stretch code must be inspected by a certified inspector under the Home Energy Rating System (HERS). This is a more complicated inspection than a town building inspector normally conducts and requires special equipment and training. This third party inspection costs between $600 and $1,200. Ernest Mendenhall, West Tisbury building inspector, told The Times that he thinks the projected energy savings should make the stretch code attractive to almost all homeowners, and having a third party do the energy inspections would make his job a bit easier. But, he says, there are not as yet many certified inspectors on Martha’s Vineyard.

Officials say they expect to put the proposal to voters at the annual town meeting in April. The WTEC will conduct an informational meeting about the stretch code at the Howes House at 5:30, on Wednesday, January 18. The base code will be upgraded by BBRS in 2013, and a new stretch code will then be proposed, which towns will again have to vote to adopt.

Other Green Community requirements

Adopting the stretch code will not by itself qualify the town as a Green Community. The town must designate a specific location for as-of-right siting of renewable energy generating facilities, such as, for example in West Tisbury, the former town landfill, now capped. The town must also provide an expedited application and permitting process (not longer than one year) for the as-of-right location. To accomplish this, the planning board would have to write warrant articles changing the zoning bylaws, and the voters would have to approve them.

Further, the town must agree to buy only fuel efficient vehicles, excepting fire trucks and police cars.

Finally, West Tisbury must establish a baseline for the efficiency for all municipal buildings, school buildings, and municipal and school vehicles, and put in place a comprehensive program to improve this baseline by 20 percent within five years.