Energy Code review, 2023 National Electrical Code, water quality fees

The first hearing of the 2023 NEC technical review committee was held in September.

On Aug. 23, Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman held a virtual hearing on the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) review of the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). At this hearing and over the next several weeks, stakeholders weighed in on this review and whether to open Minnesota’s residential energy code for rulemaking.

Back in the fall of 2020, Lipman recommended that the Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) not open rulemaking until the next code cycle. In a move celebrated by the housing industry, then-DLI Commissioner Roslyn Robertson concurred with that decision in 2020, leaving the state’s energy code in place.

Since 2018, Minnesota has operated on a six-year code cycle. The next code cycle would review the 2024 series of I-Codes for adoption in 2026.

Commenting in support of opening rulemaking for the 2021 IECC were the American Chemistry Council, Responsible Energy Code Alliance, Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, the city of Minneapolis, New Building Institute, Center for Energy and Environment, the Minnesota Propane Association, AIA Minnesota, Fresh Energy, Green New Deal Homes SBC and Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.

Housing First Minnesota, Central Minnesota Builders Association (CMBA) and Builders Association of Minnesota opposed opening rulemaking.

“Opening Minnesota Rules Chapter 1322 to an off-cycle adoption under the 2021 IECC is not only unwarranted and unnecessary, but also poses a significant roadblock to Minnesota’s already stressed housing market,” said Housing First Minnesota in its comments.

During the Aug. 23 hearing, Steve Gottwalt, CMBA’s government affairs consultant, testified against opening Minnesota’s Energy Code. “We do not have a crisis of energy efficiency in new homes; we have a crisis of housing affordability and availability,” stated Gottwalt.

Both CMBA and Housing First Minnesota cited Minnesota’s housing crisis, the lengthy payback for homebuyers and the voting irregularities at the International Code Council level as reasons not to open rulemaking.

A recommendation from Lipman is expected later this fall.

2023 National Electrical Code

At its July meeting, the Board of Electricity appointed a technical review committee as the state prepares to adopt the 2023 National Electric Code (NEC), which was published on Sept. 1. The first hearing of the 2023 NEC technical review committee was held on Sept. 22.

One of the biggest changes in the 2023 NEC is the delay of certain requirements that impact nuisance tripping of HVAC systems. According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the NEC included provisions that were beyond the specifications HVAC system manufactures, causing GFCIs to trip.

“Nuisance tripping poses health, safety and durability issues,” said Nick Erickson, senior director of housing policy at Housing First Minnesota. “We raised issues of nuisance tripping in the 2020 NEC adoption process and were told that the code was working as planned. The reversal of the NFPA underscores the need for a more rigorous review, both at the NFPA level and here in Minnesota.”

In advance of the technical review of the 2023 NEC, Housing First Minnesota sent the Board of Electricity the results of a statewide survey it conducted earlier this year.

• 71% of respondents said the Board of Electricity review serves to rubber stamp and no respondents thought the Board undertakes a rigorous review of the model code.

• 100% of respondents said they do not feel the Board of Electricity balances safety and affordability.

• 88% of respondents don’t believe the Board of Electricity will provide a fair hearing on NEC amendments.

• 88% of respondents said the Minnesota’s Electrical Code adoption is too frequent.

The survey respondents included builders of 15% of the state’s homes in 2021 and electrical contractors who worked on 21% of the new homes built in Minnesota in 2021.

Water quality fees

Several sectors, including housing, responded to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) call for comments on proposed water permit fee increases. The proposals included significant increase in construction stormwater permit fees and the creation of a new subdivision fee.

In their published comments on the fee hikes, Housing First Minnesota and CMBA said this lack of transparency prohibits the public from making fully informed comments. Both groups also called any changes in fees, which they opposed, to be phased in at the same schedule as the MS4 permit increases which are phased in over a three-year period.

“Proper policy making requires transparency,” said Erickson. “We asked the MPCA to ‘show us the math’ on both the significant permit fee increases and the creation of a new subdivision registration fee. They did not, which is unfortunate.”

The Builders Association of Minnesota concurred that any stormwater fee increases should be phased in with local government MS4 fees and opposed the proposed fee increases, but it expressed support for fee increases on a smaller scale.

In addition to the response from the housing industry, the fee hikes were opposed by local government and agriculture organizations.