Berkeley Energy Saving Ordinance

At the November 18, 2014 Berkeley City Council meeting, the Building Energy Saving Ordinance (BESO) was passed unanimously at the first reading with some questions still needing research.  Read the resolution here.  BESO will be considered by the Council on January 20, 2015.

Editor’s note: The League wrote to the City Council supporting the goal, but concerned that the ordinance would be too costly for single family home owners. See full letter: LWVBAE to City Council re BESO Building Energy Saving Ordinance

The Ordinance will require building owners to have energy and water efficiency assessments.  In addition, the Ordinance will replace the existing Residential and Commercial Energy Conservation Ordinances (RECO and CECO).  RECO and CECO required minimum energy upgrades at the point of sale of a building or remodel.


Under the new BESO Ordinance, energy audits will be required to educate owners about the most current technology and cost benefits in energy and water savings.   The audits will include information about incentives, rebates and available financing.  The goal is to motivate people to take advantage of energy efficiency incentives, including free or subsidized assessments.   Building owners will not be required to make energy efficiency improvements.


This effort is part of the City’s commitment to reach the Climate Action Plan goals to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Building energy use accounts for approximately 45% of Berkeley’s GHG emissions so the potential impact could be significant.


BESO Frequently Asked Questions:


  1. My home is already efficient, do I still need an efficiency assessment?

Efficient buildings and those that access free income-qualified efficiency services would be exempt from the assessment requirement.  This includes buildings with verified energy efficiency improvements, which would qualify for a High Performance Exemption and buildings with efficient use of natural gas and electricity, which would qualify for a Low Energy Use Deferral that allows requirements to be deferred to the buyer when the property is sold.


  1. Will City Staff be performing the assessments?

When needed, home owners may chose an energy efficiency professional to conduct the assessment from a list of registered service providers available on the City’s website.  City staff would not be providing the assessment services.


  1. Will the City require installation of recommendations?

No energy efficiency measures are required and the mandatory RECO measures have been removed.   Efficiency measures are most effective when homeowners are engaged in the decision-making process and able to choose measures that maximize comfort, health, safety, and maintenance improvements.


  1. What if I cannot afford an assessment?


If a homeowner does not qualify for the High Performance Exemption and the Low Energy Use Deferral, and they are not eligible for other free assessment services, they may apply for a financial hardship deferral that allows the requirements to be deferred to the buyer when the property is sold.


The frequency of audits will vary by the size of buildings.  Small buildings, up to 5,000 sq. ft., and 1-4 residential units, would need to undergo an audit every 10 years or at the time of sale.  BESO will require assessments of homes at the time of sale until 2020.  The phase in period is from 2020 to 2025 for single-family building audits.


Medium buildings, 5,000 – 24,999 sq. ft., would need an audit every 8 years or at time of sale.  Audits would be phased in by 2018.


Large buildings, 25,000 sq. ft. or more, would need an ENERGY STAR Performance Report annually, however, be on a 5 year cycle for audits.  Audits would be phased in by 2016.


Owners of large and medium buildings would be required to disclose a summary of the efficiency assessments to a City website.  Building Energy scores would be given where applicable.  Most of the buildings in the school district are already at a score of 86 or even higher so they are exempt.  An energy score of around 75 may be considered the exemption point.  This is yet to be decided.  Homes will have energy scores that are 1 –10.  Small buildings would only need to disclose a summary at the point of sale.  The process will be simplified by use of an on-line application and user-friendly compliance tracking.   With the disclosure of energy efficiency information, data will be more transparent to owners and prospective renters or buyers.


The City filing fees will range from $79 to $240 depending on the building size.  The cost of audits range from an estimated $400 for a single-family home up to $10,000 for a very large commercial building.


All buildings that demonstrate efficient use of energy, such as those that have undergone whole building upgrades, will be exempt from assessment requirements.  Multi family buildings with long-term tenancy under rent control prior to January 1, 1999, will be exempt. There is an exemption for the sale of a condominium or unit within a building and not a detached structure.   Various Hardship deferrals also apply.


Income qualified assistance includes:


  1. Any whole building that has been served by an income-qualified Weatherization Assistance Program for low-income households is exempt. Income-qualified weatherization assessment and upgrade services through the Energy Assistance Program allow owners or renters to get a free audit that would satisfy the audit requirement and free services that would qualify a building for a “High Performance Exemption.”


  1. Financial Hardship deferrals allow assessments to be deferred to a buyer at the time of sale.

The City of Berkeley’s Office of Energy and Sustainable Development is developing moderate income assessment incentives that will be rolled out in conjunction with the 2020 phase in for single family homes so that people who want to pursue efficiency have an alternate to the hardship deferral.


In a letter to the Berkeley City Council, The League of Women Voters Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville expressed concerns that the cost of the fee and audit may be unreasonably high for many homeowners.  Although there is an exemption for low-income owners, they need to apply and it may only cover very low incomes.   Knowing the actual dollar amounts of available government and agency subsidies and incentives, who will be able to take advantage of them and whether they continue into the future is critical in evaluating the impact of the Ordinance on families.  The City Council has asked the Berkeley Energy Commission and Office of Sustainable Development for a listing of the rebates and incentives.  These are apparently constantly changing which needs to be noted.


At the November 18th City Council meeting, a contractor said he was denied the rebates from PG&E.  After completing extensive energy efficiency work on a remodel, PG&E said he had to be a certified contractor.  The contractor said he has only found two contractors who are certified.  The Council members had concerns about this and requested further research.


Other concerns that have been heard from the community have to do with the repeal of RECO & CECO’s mandatory upgrades at the point of sale of a property.  If informed homeowners are not compelled to make energy efficiency upgrades voluntarily, we will actually lose ground.  The rationale for the replacement of RECO & CECO is that the current ordinances need to be consistent with Title 24 of the California Energy Code.  Now that incentive programs have moved toward whole building performance assessment and improvements, RECO & CECO are ineligible for a wealth of incentives provided by State-mandated rate payer funds under current programs.  RECO & CECO also only reach a small percentage of buildings so the progress is slow.


For more information, see:  http://www.cityofberkeley.Info/EnergyOrdinanceUpdate/



All League News