Norman makes clean energy commitment

Members of the Sierra Club Ready for 100 group stand Tuesday to be recognized for their work on the city’s clean energy commitment. On Tuesday, the Norman City Council passed a resolution committing to 100 percent clean energy across the board by 2050. 

NORMAN — Norman has taken new steps as a statewide leader in environmental policy.

On Tuesday, the Norman City Council approved a resolution to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. 

The resolution makes Norman the first city in Oklahoma to make such a commitment to renewables and will see the city tap sources like wind a solar for electricity. By 2050, the resolution calls for 100 percent clean energy commitment across the board. 

The resolution was crafted by the Norman Ready for 100 policy committee and received broad support from the community.

Though discussions have taken place, how the city will reach that goal is to be determined. 

In more immediate concrete terms, the city approved another environmentally focused resolution Tuesday that offers incentives to homebuilders who build more energy efficient homes, becoming the first city in Oklahoma to do so.

“We wanted to incentivize builders to build a better quality product of energy efficient homes,” Ward 4 council member Bill Hickman said. “It has an environmental benefit, but knowing that it costs more money, the incentive was a way to encourage them to do it.”

Hickman said Colorado Springs, Colorado, has implemented similar incentives. That city’s example helped light the way, but Hickman said Norman’s pilot program is largely the result of collaborative conversations with builders and environmentally minded residents that stretch back to 2017.

“We’ve gotten overwhelming support from the building community and the largest homebuilders in town, like Ideal Homes and Home Creations,” Hickman said. “Curtis McCarty, with C.A. McCarty Construction, has been involved in discussions, as well, and they are all supportive. So are folks with the Sierra Club Ready for 100 group who have been involved with these conversations.

“It’s a rare opportunity when we can bring forward a policy that has support from the building community and the environmental community. So I’m very excited and thrilled about this.”

Hickman said setting it up as a six-month pilot project allowed the city council to enact it via resolution instead of an ordinance and gives the city some flexibility to test the waters and make adjustments.

The program waives a percentage of city’s building permit fee based on the nationally recognized Home Energy Rating System (HERS)/Energy Rating Index (ERI) for energy efficiency. The lower the HERS score, the more energy efficient the house and the bigger the discount on the permit.

Newly constructed single-family homes built to code in Norman average a HERS rating of 100. A home that meets the minimum threshold (HERS rating of 65) to cash in on the incentive would be 35 percent more efficient.

Under the pilot program, which begins July 1, homes that achieve a HERS rating of 55 could be exempt from the city’s building permit fee altogether.

That’s not to say homebuilders will pay less to build these homes than their less-efficient counterparts. HERS ratings are determined by third-party inspection. The national average cost of certification is $450 per home and includes three site visits and diagnostic testing, according to Residential Energy Services Network. That cost adds to increased building costs.

Still, Curtis McCarty, of CA McCarty Construction, said it’s worth it.

McCarty said every home his company has built over the last two years has a HERS rating, and he believes anything that can be done to reduce carbon footprint is a positive step.

He said the jury is still out on how the incentive will influence homebuilders, but he is hopeful that it will.

He said many homebuyers aren’t very familiar with the HERS rating system, but over time, that could change as homebuyers lean toward prioritizing more energy-efficient homes and become more educated about how improved energy efficiency saves money over time.

“It is important to me, and I think it should be important to consumers, but when you talk to most people about a [HERS rating], most people don’t even know what it is … As energy gets more expensive, which it’s going to — nothing gets cheaper, typically, when it comes to energy — I think it will be something that becomes more important," McCarty said. "I think public awareness of what a HERS rating is will probably help push them over the top. If you can finance the extra cost over the life of your mortgage and you can reduce your monthly electric bill, then absolutely it will help.”

Hickman said builders still will spend more, but beyond the city’s incentive, builders have a market incentive to build energy-efficient homes: it’s what people want.

On a broader environmental scale, Ready for 100 policy chair Katherine Trent said the resolution strengthens Norman’s ability to move toward renewable energy. It’s a small step, but Trent said it gives people hope that little steps can help bring about big change and contribute to long-term goals. The economics work, too, she said.

“I think it makes good business sense to embrace energy efficiency measures because, when a home is properly weatherized and built for efficiency standards, it’s going to last longer, be more comfortable and maintain temperature easier,” Trent said. “It’s also an emerging market. People like the idea of buying a green home and being responsible environmental stewards.”

The Ready for 100 campaign is a national bipartisan effort to move toward renewable energy. The Norman Ready for 100 contingent is working on a broad scope energy plan to submit to the city council by January 2020.

“Technology has really advanced over the last few years,” Trent said. “So, our hope is to help Norman become a leader in Oklahoma for renewable energy.”

Mack Burke is an investigative reporter and award-winning feature writer and columnist for The Norman Transcript. An OU alumnus, he has lived in Norman since 2003.