Energy code changes pass committee

A bill that would make 46 changes to the county’s energy conservation code passed a County Council committee meeting Tuesday and will go before the full council.

Bill 126 makes a host of changes to the county’s current energy conservation code, which is based on a 2006 version of the International Energy Conservation Code and has been criticized for being overly stringent and poorly applicable to the Big Island, said council member and architect of the measure Sue Lee Loy.

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The bill would, if passed, update the conservation code to a 2015 version of the IECC and then make 46 additional changes to that version, many of which grant exceptions to certain standards outlined by the measure.

In many cases, requirements for air conditioning, insulation or air-tightness are waived for residences in the tropical zone, which is also expanded to altitudes of up to 5,000 feet.

Many of the amendments were borrowed from similar amendments made to the energy conservation codes of Maui and Kauai counties.

Reaction to the bill during Tuesday’s meeting of the Public Works and Mass Transit Committee was largely positive. The handful of testifiers responding to the measure agreed that the amendments are significant improvements upon the current code, which is needlessly restrictive.

“There’s no question in my mind that these amendments are necessary,” said Steve Rich, one of several people testifying in person at the meeting in Kona.

Joy Kimura, representing the Hawaii Laborers &Employers Cooperation and Education Trust Fund, said the labor group is broadly in support of the bill, but presented a list of more changes the group recommends implementing.

However, one testifier was skeptical about adapting the IECC, a general use energy conservation code, for the Big Island.

“This island is different,” said testifier Bob Ernst. “We have the expertise here to write our own code.”

Council members praised Lee Loy for her commitment to transparency and community feedback during the draft process for the bill.

Lee Loy said last week that she intended to postpone approval of the bill until the next committee meeting so members of the public would be able to testify in person on both sides of the island.

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However, Kohala Councilman Tim Richards said delaying the bill for too long risks impeding any construction projects that are scheduled to begin soon. Based on that concern, the committee voted unanimously to forward the bill to the Council with a favorable recommendation.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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