BOSTON -- Homeowners would be required to get energy audits prior to selling their property under a new proposal that has riled the real estate industry.
Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed a new system for grading home energy efficiency that would make Massachusetts the first state in the nation to require homeowners to get energy audits as a prerequisite for sales.
Energy Secretary Matthew Beaton, a former energy efficiency consultant, compared the proposed energy scorecards to mileage ratings for automobiles.
"Just like comparing a sedan to an F-350, where you know the mile-per gallon, you will be all to look at that house and make the same determination and know what your operational costs are going to be before making a decision," he told a legislative hearing on Wednesday.
Beaton say the legislation, if approved, would help tens of thousands of homeowners save on utilities and keep the state on track to meet carbon-reduction requirements under the Global Warming Solutions Act, which calls for substantially lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.
But the plan is getting a cool reception from the Massachusetts Realtors Association, which argues that mandating energy audits would impact home sales.
They told lawmakers that a mandate could slow turnover in an already tight housing market and negatively affect low-income communities.
“We have not seen any evidence or data from the (Baker) administration or other stakeholders that this energy score will lead to more energy efficiency,” Michael McDonagh, general counsel for the Realtors, told lawmakers.
Boston-area broker Anthony Lamacchia told the panel that adding another mandate to home sales will have a chilling effect.
"Home-sellers are already stressed out and overwhelmed when they're putting their home on the market," he said. "Housing inventory is the lowest it has ever been, and by adding to the things that sellers have to do, we're going to delay them from listing and prohibit some sellers from listing at all."
If the plan is approved, homeowners would be required to get energy efficiency scorecards for all real estate transactions by 2021.
The state would license new energy efficiency inspectors -- like building inspectors -- to conduct home audits and assign a score to the property.
The scores — which will factor in lighting, insulation, the efficiency of a home’s heating and cooling systems, leaky windows and other structural factors — would be good for 10 years, Beaton said.
Homeowners wouldn’t be required to make recommended upgrades based on the energy audits, but Beaton expects that many will.
“There no mandate to do anything to the house,” he told lawmakers. “This is just information.”
The state Senate approved a similar proposal in 2016, but the effort stalled amid negotiations with House leaders.
Baker's plan has won support from environmentalists, who say the changes will help reduce the state's carbon output and meet its renewable energy goals.
"Energy efficiency is the best form of energy supply, as there is nothing cheaper or more environmentally friendly than not using energy at all," said Emily Norton, executive director of the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club, at Wednesday’s hearing.
"So the more we can incentivize homeowners to invest in energy efficiency and thereby reduce their energy usage, the better," she added.
Baker administration officials say the residential home sector amounts to roughly a quarter of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Currently, the state audits more than 60,000 homes a year through its Mass Save program, but the reviews are voluntary and owners must request them. Baker administration officials say the ultimate goal is to have energy efficiency grades for most the state's estimated 1.8 million residential properties.
The Department of Energy Resources has a pilot scorecard program that has scored more than 3,800 homes in the Springfield area.
The state also provides energy efficiency grants to local governments to reduce power usage in water and sewer treatment plants.
Most of the state's major utilities -- including National Grid and Eversource -- offer consumers home efficiency audits to help reduce energy consumption through Mass Save.
The efforts have helped make Massachusetts a national leader in energy efficiency, winning the state a top ranking by green groups seven years in a row.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com.