Nebraska Energy Code Compliance Collaborative: A Case Study On An Emerging Best Practice

by Paul Karrer

In the wake of the Great Recession in 2009, Congress passed the Recovery Act to stimulate the national economy. Within that legislation, a pot of $3.1 billion in expanded State Energy Program (SEP) funding was linked to commitments from states to update their building energy codes and to develop plans to achieve greater rates of compliance by 2017.

By January 2014, BCAP projects that about two of every three U.S. states will have implemented building energy codes that meet or exceed the energy efficiency of the model codes referenced by the Recovery Act – the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2007. By 2015, this projection grows to about four of every five states. In several “home rule” states that do not adopt statewide codes, many major local jurisdictions have also adopted their own energy codes that meet Recovery Act standards. For most states, however, the greater challenge will be developing and executing plans to measure and improve compliance rates with the updated codes in new and renovated homes and commercial buildings.

To help states meet these goals, BCAP launched the Compliance Planning Assistance (CPA) Program in 2010. To date, 22 states have participated in the program, of which 18 have published Strategic Compliance Plans (SCPs) – multi-year roadmaps of recommended tasks within various focus areas that state agencies, local jurisdictions, and other stakeholders can take to achieve full compliance with the model energy codes. From these 18 plans, a common best practice emerged: establishing a state Energy Code Compliance Collaborative.

A compliance collaborative is a forum for experts from diverse stakeholder groups impacted by energy codes to come together and work toward common interests and goals. As a long-term initiative, a collaborative can advise states that are struggling with reduced budgets, limited resources, and contracted staff.
By providing a venue for stakeholders to listen and learn from each other, the groups in the Collaborative can work together by:

  • Coordinating policies affecting implementation;
  • Identifying and prioritizing action items to measure and improve compliance; and
  • Serving as a reliable source of information on energy code compliance.

Working from the model developed by stakeholders in Idaho a decade ago, BCAP has taken the compliance collaborative format to seven new states since 2012: Colorado, Delaware, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Texas. In January 2013, BCAP asked me to help create a collaborative in my home state of Nebraska.

I approached the project with both excitement and caution. Personally, I was excited to work just down the road from where I grew up in Omaha. Professionally, I looked forward to working with some of the people that had been instrumental in the process to update the Nebraska Energy Code to the 2009 IECC in early 2011.

Some elements of the task, however, looked challenging. My work at BCAP up to that time had focused heavily on policy adoption support. In recent years, attention has shifted – at both the state and national level – to implementation and compliance efforts as more states have updated their codes and funding opportunities post-Recovery Act have declined. The essential task of convening and leading the discussion of more than two dozen local experts with varied interests and opinions also proved daunting initially.

Thankfully, the core group assembled to help lead the collaborative brought a vital mix of stakeholder connections and event planning experience. Danielle Jensen and Lynn Chamberlin from the Nebraska Energy Office (NEO) had already established relationships with most of the individuals invited to participate through the Building Codes Advisory Council that met regularly during the code adoption process as well as the Great Plains Regional Energy Codes Conference that NEO hosted in late 2012. Chris Burgess from the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA) brought enthusiasm, technical expertise, and previous experience with utility engagement that would become key to the tasks the collaborative would pursue.

The Nebraska Energy Code Compliance Collaborative met for the first time on March 25. Four meetings have been held thus far, with the fifth planned for December, and roughly two dozen stakeholders have regularly participated. From the meetings, the Collaborative has developed or enhanced three key initiatives to measure, improve, and highlight energy code compliance in the state:

  • A commercial building compliance baseline study formatted as a semester-long service learning course through the University of Nebraska Department of Construction Management using student evaluators in early 2014;
  • A forum to engage Nebraska’s utilities about their role in energy code compliance, specifically the benefits of providing funding opportunities for compliance efforts like training; and
  • An event before the next legislative session to educate state lawmakers and their staff on the Nebraska Energy Code and the impact future state funding can provide through education and outreach.

BCAP hopes to create collaboratives in new states in the near future and continue to build on the accomplishments of the current ones (watch this national information-sharing webinar from August 2013 to learn more). With BCAP set to launch a quarterly digest of news from the participating states, I believe the energy code community will be hearing a lot more about compliance collaboratives in 2014 and beyond.