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Green building fee battle

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Saturday, December 01, 2007


PORTLAND At November’s Greenbuild International Conference in Chicago, Portland city commissioner Dan Saltzman unveiled a mandatory carbon fee plan for new construction in Portland. Back at home, builders rolled out the first draft of their own voluntary plan to encourage green building practices. Some say they were surprised about Saltzman’s announcement.

Proposed by Saltzman’s Office of Sustainable Development, the mandatory plan calls for new buildings to exceed Oregon’s energy efficiency requirements by 30% (about equal to LEED gold certification) by 2010 or be fined. The revenue would be used to reward businesses that exceed standards by 45% (LEED platinum certification). Existing homes for sale would require only an energy efficiency assessment which would be disclosed to buyers.

A third aspect of Saltzman’s plan provides for technical assistance, training and outreach by the city in the first two years. Saltzman says the goal is to not have to charge the fee, in which case incentives could come in the form of discounted system development charges. “We see [these standards] as achievable.”

“We’ll do anything possible to stop a mandatory program,” says Jim McCauley with the Homebuilders Association of Metropolitan Portland. McCauley has been working with the Development Review Advisory Committee (DRAC) in the city’s Bureau of Development Services, overseen by city commissioner Randy Leonard, on a plan he says will be just as effective but won’t result in extra costs to the consumer. “And you’ll see a lot more success [with a voluntary program],” McCauley says.

DRAC includes representatives from all city committees that affect builders and outside groups like Earth Advantage. It aims to streamline permitting and reduce costs for developers who get third-party energy efficiency certification, but it does not set a specific standard in its draft plan.

McCauley alleges the OSD mandatory plan is about image building and was kept under wraps until its Chicago announcement. Saltzman says voluntary standards don’t guarantee the needed results. He doesn’t view the DRAC plan as competition and points out the OSD plan is still being refined; he expects the two will be meshed as the public weighs in. Both proposals are being polished this month before formally going to the city council in early 2008.


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