Tuesday, June 18, 2013 | 4:11 p.m.
A debate over just how energy efficient buildings in Las Vegas should be has people on both sides of the issue seeing green.
For architects, contractors and other sustainability advocates, the city’s energy code, which lays out requirements for insulation, windows, mechanical systems and other parts of newly constructed or newly rehabbed buildings, is a common sense way to encourage conservation.
But some business owners say the requirements are overly stringent, especially when rehabilitating older buildings downtown, and add burdensome costs to a project.
City Councilman Bob Beers has voiced support for the overly stringent line of thinking, arguing the current energy code needs more flexibility. To that end, Beers has introduced a new bill that would exempt older buildings from some parts of the code. The proposal has sparked a debate over the balance between promoting sustainability and business development that has swept over City Hall in the last month.
On Wednesday, the council is likely to vote on Beers’ bill. Which way members swing is still to be determined.
Beers garnered public support for his bill from Councilmen Stavros Anthony and Bob Coffin during a May meeting, presumably leaving Beers in need of one more vote to ensure its passage.
During that same May meeting, Councilman Ricki Barlow said he could not support the bill, and Councilman Steve Ross has been adamant in his opposition to lessening efficiency standards.
Ross acknowledges some might find the energy code too stringent, but he said he’s also talked to plenty of downtown business owners who were supportive of the code.
The city has invested heavily in sustainability, Ross said, including building City Hall to the highest efficiency standards and using solar panels to power city operations. The city’s role as a leader in sustainability would be undermined by loosening the energy codes, he argued.
“We’re in a time in our society when sustainability has got to be a priority. Making our buildings more efficient, making our vehicles more efficient, making our homes more efficient, that’s the mindset of the future, thus the energy code and its requirements,” Ross said.
Mayor Carolyn Goodman said she hadn’t made up her mind on the bill and was looking forward to hearing from both sides of the issue during Wednesday’s meeting.
Goodman said she’d heard griping about the energy code requirements, but she thought there was room for a compromise that helped business owners while still promoting energy-efficient building practices.
“I love the dialogue that’s going on in our community about this. I think some of our city council members have some very valid concerns and questions,” she said. “What we want to do is come up with the right resolution and mediate this.”
Relaxing the city’s version of the energy code could put Las Vegas in conflict with the state, which sets the minimum energy code standards for buildings in Nevada.
In a letter earlier this month, the state Attorney General’s Office warned the city it couldn’t support Beers’ bill because it violates state statute.
Val Steed, deputy city attorney, said the city had some authority to amend the state’s version of the energy code and it was not clear how the state would respond should the bill pass. Mesquite, for instance, hasn’t adopted the state’s version of the energy code but has suffered no apparent consequences.
Steed said the council would have to take the city attorney’s advice into consideration when making its decision, but that there’s nothing outright prohibiting the council from passing a bill in conflict with state statute.
The disconnect between state and city codes also could cause headaches for local architects and contractors, who are licensed by the state and are required to follow state standards.
If the city amends its code and a local client doesn’t want to meet more stringent state standards, local architect Jennifer Turchin said she and other professionals could be forced to choose between going against their clients’ wishes or facing discipline from the state licensing board.
“It’s putting everyone in a really bad situation,” said Turchin, a project manager at Sullen Sustainability and a leader in the effort to defeat Beers’ bill. “I would have to say, ‘Sorry I can’t design your building,’ because it would put me in a position where I could be fined and could lose my license.”