Wynn Weighs In

Mayor talks about Green Home Tax (and how there's no such thing)

Wynn: Yeah, real happy about getting caught up in this.
Wynn: Yeah, real happy about getting caught up in this.

In a lose-lose situation, Mayor Will Wynn has been dragged into the Place Four council race mud-slinging about the mythical Green Home Tax.

In an email sent out this morning called "Setting the Record Straight", without naming names he dismantles Cid Galindo's last few campaign fliers (although, to be fair, he could also be savaging the claims made by the Austin Board of Realtors and the Statesman editorial board).

One interpretation is that Wynn is clarifying exactly what the proposed energy efficiency ordinance means. Another is that he's stamping on the increasingly histrionic claims that it's a point-of-sale imposition requiring full weatherproofing and gerbil-powered cooling systems. The discussion among the 28-member Energy Efficiency Retrofit Task Force, Wynn points out, is about voluntary programs to increase energy efficiency, and still months away from any recommendations (and not, as the Statesman claimed on Monday, "looking at the idea of requiring home sellers to make energy upgrades before the sale could be completed.")

Not that Laura Morrison has run a squeaky-clean campaign: Using Cid's father's Republican background against Cid in print ads has left a bad taste in a lot of mouths (who says the sins of the father cannot be visited upon the son?). As for conflict of interests (her other anti-Cid platform), what happens if Morrison's much-vaunted McMansion ordinance ever comes up again, or the Austin Neighborhood Council gives testimony?

So why lose-lose for Wynn? Say nothing, incorrect statements go uncorrected. Say something, and he's painted as pro-Morrison. Either way, someone makes political capital of him.

Wynn's letter in full after the break.

June 11, 2008

Dear Friend:

Over the last several months, you may have heard talk about a proposed City plan for achieving improved energy efficiency in existing homes. Some have called it the "point of sale" ordinance, or even the "green home tax." There's been a lot of confusion and misunderstanding on this issue, so I want to try to set the record straight. I hope that you will take a moment to read this.

As you know, we face a rapidly changing energy future. If you like what's happening with gas prices right now, then you're going to love what happens with the cost of electricity over the next few years. Make no mistake: powering our homes and buildings is going to get more expensive, perhaps dramatically. Right now, we have an opportunity to get in front of it.

This matters to you whether you know it or not, because we all share in the cost of wasted electricity. It forces us to make expensive power purchases on the energy markets during the heat of summer, and brings us closer to the day when we would need to build expensive new power plants. This drives up electric rates for everyone, not just those who are wasting energy.

Anticipating these problems, the City Council established an inclusive 28-member Task Force to study and make recommendations on ways to achieve better energy efficiency in Austin homes, rental properties and commercial buildings. This Task Force has not made any recommendations yet, but their draft concept is a far cry from some of the characterizations of it that I've heard.

To be clear, we're still many months and a lot of public process away from considering anything, but if the Task Force's draft concept were adopted today, here's what it would NOT do:

1) It would NOT impose a tax on selling your home.
2) It would NOT require people to make energy efficiency upgrades before they could sell their home.
3) It would NOT require people to pass an energy efficiency inspection or get a "certificate of compliance" before they could sell their home.
4) It would NOT force people to buy expensive items like new air conditioners or new windows.
5) It would NOT cause burdensome delays to home sales.

If the Task Force's draft concept were adopted today, here's what it WOULD do:

1) It WOULD require sellers to get an inexpensive energy audit and provide that information to prospective homebuyers. Sellers wouldn't have to make upgrades, and they wouldn't have to pass an inspection – they would just have to let buyers know what kind of efficiency condition the house is in. The idea of requiring "audit and disclosure" was recommended by the Austin Board of Realtors (as represented on the Task Force), and I think it's a good one. Information is the first step to making smart energy choices, and buyers deserve to know what they're getting into when they make the biggest investment that most people will ever make in their lives.

2) It WOULD encourage people to VOLUNTARILY participate in a program to achieve basic efficiency upgrades, if a house needs it. The Task Force is discussing a VOLUNTARY program. Under a voluntary program, "low-hanging fruit" like weather stripping and duct sealing would be prioritized, and spending caps would be proposed. All of Austin Energy's rebates and incentives would be available, including their low-interest loan program. As such, basic energy efficiency strategies would be self-financing – that is, the savings on utility bills would outweigh the cost of the upgrades, which would actually put money into the pockets of homeowners, make home ownership more affordable and secure, and put homeownership in reach of more people.

3) It WOULD set voluntary participation targets and track whether we're meeting our goals over the next few years. If Austin realtors do what they've committed to do as part of the Task Force and become full partners in this process – and if the City and Austin Energy does what we've committed to do and make this an easy, seamless process – I have no doubt we'll meet our goals. But if we're falling short, we'll need to recognize that and try a different approach. Under the Task Force draft concept, the basic efficiency program could become mandatory if the voluntary program wasn't working.

These ideas are still open to a lot of discussion and debate, but I think we're starting from a good place. If everyone works together in a spirit of good faith and cooperation, I know we can develop solutions that will actually make our homes more affordable, keep electric rates lower for the entire community and put us on strong footing as we enter a shifting energy economy.

I appreciate your interest in this issue and look forward to hearing your input.


Will Wynn
Austin Mayor

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