In its continued push to make Davis environmentally sustainable, the Davis City Council approved two programs allowing homeowners and new homebuyers to make their homes more energy efficient.
Both programs are part of a greater effort by the council to adopt greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets for the city of Davis.
One plan, the Energy Efficiency Financing Program, would allow private property owners the opportunity to go to the city to finance energy efficiency improvements, solar installations, water conservation measures and other energy saving tactics.
City financing would be made available through pending state legislation, and would get homeowners past the significant hurdle of high up-front costs. The homeowner could amortize the costs over 20 years through continual property tax assessments, and would be permitted to pass the costs on if the property is sold.
The idea is that savings earned in monthly energy bills would compensate for the ongoing costs. The program was approved as a concept, and staff members expect to bring a refined proposal to the city council in late summer or early fall.
Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor said that these two measures are part of a continuing philosophy in Davis.
“The Davis community has long been committed to environmental causes and actions,” Saylor said. “The times now demand an ever-increasing focus on the impact we are making on our environment. This is not an abstract idea. This is serious business.“
Saylor recognized that this financing program has some details that need to be ironed out before it can proceed.
“There’s going to be some issues we need to take care of [to make sure it works],” Saylor said. “Like, what it’s going to cost for the homeowner is something we’re going to have to consider. I want to make sure we get all the details right so it is successful.“
The other proposal, the Greenhouse Gas Thresholds for New Residential, establishes enforceable GHG emissions targets and reductions measures for new residential development projects.
The program would involve mandatory energy efficiency improvements to new homes, and also would implement a range of measures to reduce automobile emissions, and to conserve water use.
“The city’s GHG inventory shows that more than three-quarters of the total GHG emissions generated in Davis are associated with energy used in Davis‘ homes and transportation associated with residential land uses,” according to a city staff report.
According to Mitch Sears, the city’s sustainability program manager, Davis uses the governor’s GHG targets as its minimum goal, with an ideal goal of below 1990 levels by 2020.
“We set a range, using the state as the baseline, and using the high end as our kind of stretch goals,” Sears said, “because it’s not entirely clear whether the state’s goals are aggressive enough.”
The reductions would be achieved through a variety of measures, such as solar panels, energy-efficient insulation, incentives for hybrid and electric car use, and others. To achieve 1990 levels, each housing unit would have to reduce emissions by 44 percent.
Sears said he understands it may seem difficult to reach those goals.
“In the housing sector, we’re looking to move toward low-carbon, [and then] to carbon neutral housing stock,” Sears said. “That’s a big transition, yes, but with initial steps we will start moving in the right direction. If all communities were moving in the direction Davis is going, we could see how this works on a larger scale.“
The costs would be transferred directly to the new homebuyer, and would vary depending on the size of units. One scenario presented to the council averaged an additional $8,500 in costs per new unit. The city is aware that this may present a challenge to some.
“Staff is sensitive to the fact that until more communities adopt similar standards, development in Davis will be constrained or new houses in Davis will be less affordable,” reads a memo from city staff reported in The Davis Enterprise. “In recognition the framework phases in GHG standards, provides credit for smart growth measures and allows for flexibility in how the standards are met.“
Jason Taormino of Taormino & Associates, a local developer, said he liked the program despite the extra costs.
“The plan the city council laid down is a fantastic goal in my opinion,” Taormino said. “And the costs to get there for homebuyers are quite small if we focus on changing our overall general consumption behavior.“
Saylor agrees completely.
“It’s the little things we do, whether it’s buying food, or riding the bike into town instead of driving, every small action we take makes a difference as a whole community.“
TOM MORRIS can be reached at email@example.com.