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Stretch Energy Code on agenda for upcoming public hearing

Date: 6/1/2010

June 2, 2010.

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Managing Editor

AGAWAM -- Residents who missed the opportunity to voice their opinion on the town's adoption of the Stretch Energy Code during the May 17 public information session will have a second chance next week.

On June 7, the City Council will host a public hearing on the subject as a part of its scheduled meeting. Discussions are slated to begin at 7 p.m.

Anthony Sylvia, director of the town's Department of Public Works and chair of its Energy Commission, said the move to have the council vote to adopt the Stretch Energy Code -- which established specific energy efficiency standards for new construction similar to the Energy Star requirements now used by most builders -- is one of the five requirements the town must meet to receive a Green Community designation from the state.

Attaining Green Community status would make Agawam eligible to apply for a portion of $10 million in grants and loans set aside by the state to fund energy efficiency upgrades to buildings -- including those owned by the town -- renewable energy projects and other green initiatives.

Sylvia said the town has already fulfilled, or has a plan in place to fulfill, the other four requirements. These include adopting as-of-right-siting for energy efficient manufacturing or research, adopting an expedited application and permitting process (for new construction), establishing a baseline energy inventory in all municipal buildings and drawing a plan to reduce usage by 20 percent over five years, and purchasing only energy-efficient vehicles for municipal use.

"At this time per the Massachusetts building code the Stretch Energy Code is optional," Sylvia said, adding that 40 communities statewide have already chosen to adopt these stricter building standards. "We're hoping that the City Council will vote to accept the Stretch Energy Code and make it a requirement for buildings in Agawam."

Sylvia acknowledged that there is some concern among members of the construction community that adopting these standards will result in higher building costs, which most likely would be passed on to the home buyer in the form of a higher price tag for the house. He countered this by pointing out that when a home is built to this code "the homeowner will see lower energy costs, or [could apply for] an energy-efficient mortgage."

"Homeowners may be able to afford a larger home or decrease their monthly payments by having a more energy-efficient home," he added.

The Stretch Energy Code would affect existing homes only during renovations, and only when those renovations include a system upgrade, such as the replacement of a boiler, or the replacement of a wall, windows or doors. Sylvia stressed the new code requirements would apply only to that portion of the home being renovated.

According to Sylvia, while the Stretch Energy code is optional at this point, he expects the state to make the code mandatory in the near future.

"Let's get ahead of this and [adopt] the Stretch Energy Code. It is critical to qualify as a Green Community," he said.

The June 7 meeting is open to the public. Sylvia invited residents to "come and ask their questions."