Voters Approve Adding Specialized Energy Code in Bedford

Bedford Town Meeting voters on Monday approved updating the building code bylaw with the so-called specialized code, adding a greater requirement for energy efficiency to new larger buildings.

The change will be effective on July 1, 2024. It modifies the so-called stretch energy code adopted earlier.

Dan Bostwick of the town’s Energy and Sustainability Committee handled the presentation to Town Meeting, emphasizing that the specialized code “adds a few requirements for new construction only.”

The state regulations under the specialized code stipulate that new residences larger than 4,000 square feet that use fossil fuels must meet higher efficiency standards. All new buildings, residential and commercial, using fossil fuels must be wired for eventual electrification and must also generate solar power on site. The specialized code has specific requirements for multi-family buildings.

The overall purpose is to prepare new buildings for eventual compliance with state net zero requirements, Bostwick said. “They can be all-electric or use fossil fuels as long as they are wired to easily convert to electricity.”

He added that this prewiring requirement actually helps consumers, because ultimately the conversion will be more expensive than it is now.

The code “encourages healthy, cost-effective buildings, good for the climate, that preserves consumer choice in heating/cooling systems and cooktops,” Bostwick said.

There were several voices in opposition. Resident Lee Yates said the policy should incentivize, not penalize. She also noted that Town Meeting earlier approved new systems for the library that include a gas-fired backup boiler and no required solar panels.

Resident Bob Fagan pointed out, however, that the library is an existing building and is not affected by specialized code requirements, which apply only to new construction.  And Corinne Doud added that the upgraded code does not prohibit the use of gas; it requires prewiring for eventual retrofit.

Former Selectman Joe Piantedosi contended that the stricter code “will make it tougher to get companies to build here” because of inherent additional expense.

Nearby municipalities competing for businesses – Billerica, Burlington, Woburn – have not adopted the specialized code, Piantedosi noted. “It hurts the large companies that would like to come here and build their buildings,” Piantedosi said.

Erin Sandler-Rathe pushed back on that position. “Transforming the economy to electrification is actually helping with competitiveness,” she said. 

Fagan added, “People would prefer to have a building that improves energy efficiency and is built for a decarbonized energy supply.” 

“If we are going to save the planet, we have to convert everything to electric over the next 10 years,” said resident John McClain.

Bostwick noted that although 291 cities and towns have added the stretch code, only 24 have opted to add the specialized version. But they include Boston and Worcester, as well as Concord, Lexington, and Lincoln, so they comprise about 25 percent of the state population, he said.

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