A program that would encourage Bend residents to improve the energy efficiency of their homes has become the focus of a debate about a plan to reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

The Bend City Council is expected to vote Wednesday on whether to adopt a plan that outlines 42 programs, policies, investments and initiatives intended to help residents reduce fossil fuel use. The goal is a 40% reduction by 2030 and 70% reduction by 2050, according to city documents.

The plan is meant to be a guiding document to inform future City Council decisions.

But one idea in the plan became a sticking point for some on the council: the home energy score.

“I see this is an opportunity for us as a community, since not a lot of other communities have done this, to be a leader in developing a program,” said Cassie Lacy, the senior management analyst who helped create the city’s climate action plan.

So what is a home energy score? It’s an assessment, designed by the federal Department of Energy that rates the energy efficiency of a home, based on its structure and heating method. Energy efficiency is shown on a scale between one and 10, one representing a home that uses a lot of energy and 10 representing a home that uses very little energy.

The idea is to create a standardized way to compare energy efficiencies in homes, much like how someone can compare cars based on their miles-per-gallon rating. Home energy scores are typically evaluated by the seller of a home for the benefit of a potential buyer.

Being able to compare home efficiency scores gives sellers the opportunity to make their homes more competitive on the market, proponents argue, and create an incentive for developers and homeowners to make homes as efficient as possible.

But opponents to the home energy score argue it’s costly and unrealistic, given that Bend has only one person licensed to do the assessment.

“There’s nothing that can stop the purchaser from asking the seller for what the past utilities are,” Brent Landels, a real estate agent, told the council earlier this month. “That sounds like a better idea to me.”

City Councilors Chris Piper and Justin Livingston in particular object to any program that would be mandatory, arguing home sellers should be able to choose. Livingston said it is not fair to equate a home energy score to car mileage standards.

“My old Ford truck probably doesn’t get the same gas mileage as when it was new,” Livingston said during a meeting this month. “But the person I bought that (truck) from didn’t have to go out and get a mile-per-gallon study done before they sold that to me.”

But for proponents, having an energy score program is about equity. Dozens have come to the council to support the climate action plan in the past few weeks, with several specifically supporting a home energy score program.

“The cost to the homeowner forever in energy can be one of the largest costs every single month they own the home,” Councilor Barb Campbell said. “It’s easy for someone to spend $100 to $200 per month in the winter. ... I wouldn’t dream of buying a car that didn’t tell me what the mile-per-gallon was.”

The council will consider Wednesday an updated plan, which recommends creating a home energy score program, but no longer lists the word “mandatory,” according to city documents.

Editor's note: This article has been corrected. The original version misstated Cassie Lacy's job title. The Bulletin regrets the error. 

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