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Arizona Legislature to limit energy efficiency?

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While much national attention has been focused on recent Arizona legislative chicanery,* your correspondent would like to draw attention to another unwise proposal currently under consideration in Phoenix.

SB 1227, sponsored by Senator Chester Crandell, would prohibit municipal governments from enacting zoning ordinances and/or building codes that require energy efficiency in new construction. To quote, in part, the bill’s text:

“A city or town may not adopt as mandatory any, or part of any, building code, ordinance, stipulation or other legal requirement that is related to energy efficiency, energy conservation or green construction in new construction.”

At the moment, SB 1227 has been approved by the Government Committee but appears to lack the support needed to pass in the whole Senate.

In opposing the bill, the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club notes that efficiency measures have the potential to boost local economies – by making Arizonans relatively wealthier through avoided energy costs. Equally important in the context of Arizona’s geography and climate: conventional fossil fuel power plants require large quantities of cooling water to operate.

From a sustainability perspective, this latter point is a crucial consideration. Much of Arizona is situated in arid desert – and has been experiencing prolonged drought. Measures to ensure sufficient water resources exist to support new development are critical to the long-term health of said resources. Likewise, ordinances mandating efficient resource use are equally essential to sustaining life in a frequently-unforgiving ecosystem like Arizona.

On another front, Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute have demonstrated the economic and environmental benefits that could be captured through more efficient energy use. Namely: a modest decrease in total American electricity use by 2050 – while still sustaining an economy 158% larger than today and relying on renewable energy sources to power up to 80% of electricity generated.

Senator Crandell is apparently fearful of an eventuality where local governments adopt international energy codes that drive up home construction costs and limit builders’ individual choices. Of course, the entire purpose and effect of zoning ordinances is to place reasonable limits on development and to intelligently direct future growth. At least in theory.

Energy efficiency and conservation are cheap and bring attendant economic benefits in the form of forsaken energy costs from reduced usage. In addition, given the local availability of outstanding solar insolation, Arizona would be well-counseled to mandate that all new residential and commercial development contain some quantum of distributed solar energy generation. Short-term, upfront costs for home builders cannot be the only consideration – Arizona’s place in the world demands that our elected officials take the long view on resource use.

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(*Which events are beyond the purview of this space. Nonetheless, legally-speaking the now-vetoed, so-called Arizona “religious rights” bill was misguided and quite likely unconstitutional – a retrograde act reminiscent of the pre-Civil Rights Act of 1964 era in American history. It is difficult to not feel guilty critiquing another piece of legislation when this was one signature away from state law.)

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