Gov. Charlie Baker’s top environmental official reached beyond the “low-hanging fruit” of existing programs that have made Massachusetts a perennial leader in energy efficiency, he said Wednesday. In stretching for some of those upper branches, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton rousted the Realtor community, which complained that their concerns about mandatory home energy audits have been ignored.

“We were basically told to sit down and shut up and we’ll tell you what’s good for you,” Greg Vasil, CEO of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, told the News Service after a hearing on the bill (H 4371).

After Vasil’s remarks about feeling shut out of the policy-development process, Michael McDonagh, who is general counsel and director of government affairs for the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, told the News Service that Realtors had “great” and “productive” meetings with the administration about the bill, although the Realtors disagree with the end result.

The way Beaton described the bill to the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy on Wednesday, there would be little if any downside.

Requiring home energy audits before residential properties are put on the real estate market would encourage sellers to take advantage of existing energy efficiency programs, paying dividends in savings on utility bills and lightening carbon outputs, he said. Those energy efficiency upgrades are free or discounted and more efficient homes would help lift low-income people out of “energy poverty,” Beaton told the committee. He said similar programs have been successful in Europe.

“Information is the only requirement, and it is a very powerful tool in educating the consumer,” Beaton said. “There is great opportunity and great power with the information that we would be providing to our residents.”

There are no fines within the bill to enforce the requirements, he added.

Beaton is a practitioner of energy efficiency at his own home in Shrewsbury – a passive design he built that requires almost no heating or cooling – and the Republican cabinet secretary was so clearly charged up about the bill on Wednesday that Sandwich Rep. Randy Hunt quipped that he himself would need to visit Dunkin Donuts to match the secretary’s energy level.

The bill won the support of environmentalists, including George Bachrach, the former head of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, who said it is rare for him to agree with the governor on environmental issues.

Realtors, however, contend the bill is ill-conceived and recommended focusing on improving education on energy efficiency and offering better incentives.

Much of the information that would go into a home energy audit is already available – or could be discovered during a home inspection – according to the Realtors, who said the proposed requirement would jam up the already tight real estate market.

“By adding to the to-dos and the things that sellers have to do, all we are going to do is stress out sellers, delay sellers from listing – and you may not believe this; it’s not a stretch to say this – but actually prohibit some sellers from listing at all,” said Realtor Anthony LaMacchia.

Realtor Melvin Viera argued that the scorecards would create a stigma, while Realtor Kimberly Allard said the program would not improve energy efficiency.

“We are not opposed to energy efficiency,” Allard said.

Baker said in his April 3 filing letter that homeowners would be able to receive a scorecard free of charge, providing energy efficiency information in a “standardized format.” The program would also enable renters to receive information from their landlords, Beaton told the News Service.

Realtors Dug in Against Guv’s Home Energy Audit Bill

by State House News Service time to read: 2 min