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September 23, 2014

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Proposal to relax city’s energy code conflicts with state law, Attorney General’s Office says

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Steve Marcus

A view of the new city hall before the building’s dedication cermony in downtown Las Vegas Monday, March 5, 2012.

A proposal to relax the city's building energy codes to make renovating older buildings cheaper for business owners has hit a snag after the Attorney General's Office found the changes conflict with state statute.

The letter, dated Tuesday, said the office could not support the ordinance proposed by Councilman Bob Beers because it "appears to be in violation" of statute.

The ordinance was supposed to come up for a final vote during Wednesday's City Council meeting, but it was held until the June 19 meeting.

Beers said the delay had nothing to do with the attorney general's findings and instead was due to Councilman Stavros Anthony's absence from Wednesday's meeting.

"Stavros Anthony asked me to because he knew he was not going to be here today and he wanted to hear all the debate," Beers said.

The proposed ordinance would alter the city's energy efficiency building codes, which are based on an international standard, known as the International Energy Conservation Code, that is adapted and implemented on the state level.

Las Vegas adopted the most recent version of these standards in 2011, but Beers has argued the requirements, which govern everything from insulation to windows to heating and air conditioning systems, are overly burdensome on business owners and can add tens of thousands of dollars to project costs, especially in older, draftier buildings downtown.

Beers said he thinks the costs of mandatory upgrades to meet the energy code are too steep to allow owners to recoup their investments, even with savings from lower energy costs. When the international code standards were codified into state statute several years ago, Beers said an expected return on investment of 10 years was promised.

"Energy conservation is a good idea. Everyone agrees it's a good idea. It's been presented you would never have a greater than 10 year return on investment … now we have cases of 30 years, 40 years and sometimes no return on investment," he said. "The point is to figure out how this can be implemented to achieve the goals that were promised by the sponsors three or four years ago, which was a return on investment in 10 years."

A building owner must meet the current code anytime they renovate or make an addition, but Beers' bill would allow buildings constructed before 2009 to meet only the requirements in place at the time it was initially built.

Those changes conflict with Nevada Revised Statute 701.220, which says the policy adopted by the state Director of Energy serve as the minimum requirement for all buildings in the state. Local municipalities have the power to impose stricter code requirements, but they are not allowed to loosen them, according to state statute.

"The governing body of a local government that is authorized by law to adopt and enforce a building code is mandated to incorporate the standards adopted by the director in its building codes," the attorney general's letter to the city reads.

Beers is undeterred by the attorney general's office warning, pointing out that the city of Mesquite hasn't adopted the state's version of the energy code and hasn't been punished for it.

"We have the flexibility to amend the code," he said. "We don't have the flexibility to unadopt the code, but that's not what we're doing."

He said he plans to bring the bill up for a vote at the next meeting, and when he does, it's sure to face opposition from architects and green building advocates, who have opposed any weakening of the city's energy code, calling the move "short-sighted."

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