BOSTON >> Environmentalists battling the real estate industry over a consumer measure in pending energy legislation have landed a few more allies.
In a letter on Tuesday, leaders of three housing and community development advocacy groups joined the Environmental League of Massachusetts in calling on House Speaker Robert DeLeo to include in an energy bill compromise a "simple, no-cost consumer protection measure" requiring home energy audits when homes are being sold.
"This provision provides consumers with important information, particularly for lower income buyers and sellers who often live in the least energy efficient homes with the highest utility costs. Working families need to know about the many rebates and credits available for insulation and heating systems to improve their homes and lower their utility costs. Buyers need to avoid being duped into buying a 'money pit,' " officials from the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, Alternatives for Communities & Environment, and the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America wrote.
The Senate bill also requires the state Department of Energy Resources to track and publicly report on the number of home energy audits conducted and energy ratings and labels issued. Reports would be required on a quarterly basis.
The Massachusetts Association of Realtors opposes the Senate measure, which they describe as "mandatory energy labeling," and says home inspectors are already required by state regulations to provide consumers with information about home energy audits at the time of a home inspection, which usually occurs once a home is under contract.
Association members support energy efficiency and voluntary home improvement programs like Mass Save, "which we already pay for through our utility bills," according to association president Annie Blatz.
"If these mandatory energy inspections become law, the bill causes more harm than good," Blatz said in a statement this week. "This comes down to the unintended consequences of trying to mandate a one-size-fits-all approach. It will hurt the housing market for all homeowners, especially those low-income homeowners with older homes who can't afford to improve their score prior to selling their home."
The association also says the audit requirement will cause delays in home buying in a market that already suffers from inventory problems.
Citing its work with low-income residents and familiarity with government energy efficiency programs, housing advocacy officials are taking issue with claims by the real estate industry that the measure "would disproportionately hurt low- and moderate-income homeowners."
"With all due respect to the real estate industry, they should not misrepresent the position of lower income residents," the housing groups wrote in their letter to DeLeo and other lawmakers.
Comparing energy audit information to miles per gallon information about cars or energy efficiency ratings on appliances, housing officials say the "common sense provision" in the Senate energy bill merely requires information that would benefit buyers and sellers and reduce overall energy costs.
MassSave provides free energy audits, which are funded by the utilities as part of their required energy efficiency programs, but too few people call them for an audit, and only 35 percent of those who have audits act on them, according to Environmental League of Massachusetts President George Bachrach, who believes energy efficiency efforts will pick up if audits are required at the "meaningful transactional point."
A six-member conference committee deliberating in private will decide whether to include the measure in a compromise bill, which would not be subject to amendment once it reaches the House and Senate.
The home energy audit proposal is part of larger proposals aimed at diversifying the state's energy mix and integrating hydropower and offshore wind energy. The conferees - Reps. Brian Dempsey, Thomas Golden and Brad Jones, and Sens. Benjamin Downing, Marc Pacheco and Bruce Tarr -- held their first meeting on July 14 and face a July 31 deadline to make one bill out of two proposals (H 4385 and S 2400).