Montgomery councilman issues package of environmental, energy bills -- Gazette.Net


This story was updated at 2:40 p.m. on Jan. 23, 2014.

The chairman of the Montgomery County Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee has introduced a package of bills and zoning changes to help cement the county’s standing as one of the country’s leaders in clean and sustainable energy.

The legislation would make the county a “community that embraces sustainability at our core,” Councilman Roger Berliner wrote in a Jan. 14 letter to his council colleagues.

The 11 bills in the package are scheduled for public hearings at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 11. The two zoning text amendments are scheduled for public hearings at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 25.

Among the bills are ones to increase energy efficiency by requiring the county government to increase the chances for telecommuting, making it easier to approve alternative-energy projects and creating preferences in the county’s procurement process for companies that are green-certified.

Councilwomen Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) of Garrett Park and Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring are cosponsoring all 11 bills. while Council President Craig Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown, Vice President George Leventhal (D-At Large) of Takoma Park and Councilmen Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg, Hans Riemer (D-At Large) of Takoma Park and Marc Elrich (D-At Large) of Takoma Park each support various proposals.

Riemer said the package was full of initiatives that will keep the county on the “cutting edge” of movements in local government.

“That’s certainly where Montgomery County wants to be on energy issues,” he said.

He said he thinks Montgomery is already among the leaders in that area, but it’s one that is constantly changing and evolving, and jurisdictions have to constantly consider new legislation and regulations to keep up with science and technology.

“Everyone is leap-frogging everyone else all the time,” Riemer said.

Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda said the bills would reinforce Montgomery’s brand as a county that embraces sustainability and creates green jobs.

It would also help the county honor its pledge, made several years ago along with counties from around the country, to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

One bill would require the county to purchase at least half of its energy from renewable resources by 2015 and 100 percent by 2020. The county currently buys about 30 percent of its energy from renewable resources.

Berliner pointed out that Washington, D.C., Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore., already use 100 percent renewable energy.

Other legislation would require:

• County buildings that are new or have been heavily remodeled to generate at least one kilowatt of renewable energy for each 1,000 square feet of floor space.

• The county’s Department of Permitting Services to create a cheaper and easier way to approve permits for solar products. A proposed zoning amendment would allow solar panels to extend two feet into a property’s side and rear setbacks.

• Building owners to track their buildings’ energy efficiency and make the information available to the public so tenants would be better able to predict the cost of utilities.

• An Office of Sustainability within the county’s Department of Environmental Protection.

• Regulations to create a preference in procurement for local companies that have been “green certified” by the county by adopting sustainable policies.

• A telecommuting policy for county workers and a telecommuting manager.

• The county’s Department of Transportation to contract with a company to provide more efficient streetlights.

• New buildings to install an electronic vehicle charging station for every 50 spaces in a parking lot.

• A streamlined permitting process for installing charging stations for electric vehicles.

• All new commercial buildings in Montgomery to meet the Silver standard for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. New commercial buildings currently have to be LEED-certified, although county buildings must meet the more demanding Silver standard.

Floreen said she sees that bill as one that could draw some opposition from the development community. But she said she also believes that builders understand that more efficient buildings are ultimately cheaper to operate.

“I’m not sure how much push-back we’ll receive,” she said.

Another bill would require the county to use the Environmental Protection Agency’s method, or a similar method, for calculating the hidden costs in pollution and other areas of fuels, particularly coal, when it’s evaluating the potential for energy-efficiency improvements.

“Carbon imposes a cost on society that is not reflected in the price of fuel,” Berliner said Tuesday.

As for the ratio of charging stations to parking spaces, Floreen said she didn’t know if the county should be specific, but she predicted the council will discuss the issue further.

Riemer said the telecommuting bill was one of the elements of the package that stood out to him.

With increasing technology, the ability of workers to do their jobs from home is only going to advance, he said.

And it could also be a way to help solve the traffic problems that plague the D.C. region, he said.

“I think it’s the future, I really do,” he said.

Berliner said he thinks the fact that all the bills attracted support from various council members illustrates the council’s desire that Montgomery be known as a community that embraces sustainability.

Although the bills have a long way to go through the legislative process, Floreen said she believes they’ll help move the county toward its ultimate energy-efficiency goals.

“If we don’t keep setting goals, we’ll never get there,” she said.