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Energy Disclosure Ordinance Tweaked, Approved

The Montpelier City Council last week approved a controversial ordinance that would require residential home sellers to disclose to prospective buyers the amount of energy they use to heat, cool, and run their homes — but not right away. 

After hearing complaints from residents who suggested that the website used to produce the required Vermont Home Energy Profile was not ready for primetime, the council agreed to postpone making the ordinance mandatory until July 1, 2022. 

The original ordinance called for the law to become mandatory in July of this year. The additional year of voluntary compliance would give the operators of the site, Clearly Energy, time to improve the user experience, the council said. The council also reduced the cap on the amount of fines for non-compliance from $1,000 to $500, once the mandatory phase begins. 

Realtors and others spoke strongly against the ordinance at all three hearings held on the plan, citing difficulty in navigating the Vermont Home Energy Profile website and a lack of confidence in the algorithm used to produce a home energy score.

Several speakers at the council’s May 12 Zoom meeting said it wasn’t the intent of the ordinance that troubled them as much as it was the functionality and assumptions made by the profile developers.

The intent of the disclosure, according to Mayor Anne Watson, is to give home buyers an idea of what the actual cost of ownership was for a given property and to allow them to factor into the sale any energy efficiency improvements they might wish to make. She said the ordinance was in line with the council’s goal of achieving Net Zero energy use throughout the city by 2050.

Several speakers at the May 12 meeting said they didn’t think that forcing sellers to disclose the amount of energy they used would have any effect on the city’s carbon footprint. Realtors have said that such ordinances are better left to the state legislature to level the playing field among home sellers in surrounding towns.

After hearing the mostly negative comments, District 3 City Councilor Dan Richardson proposed the one-year delay in making the ordinance mandatory. He and others suggested the delay would give the city time to collect voluntary data, educate residents about the process, and make changes to the website if needed.

Once the mandatory phase begins in 2022, home sellers and buyers will be required to sign a statement acknowledging receipt of the energy disclosure profile and file it with the city along with other closing documents.

The ordinance also includes a $25-a-day fine for sellers who refuse to provide a Vermont Home Energy Profile after listing the property, but the council agreed to lower the maximum accumulation of fines from $1,000 to $500.