Clean buildings are part of the climate solution

Mitigating climate change requires holistic action across all sectors of our society. The good news is that actions that reduce our carbon emissions often have positive benefits on other aspects of our communities and economy. This is why we’re excited to support the Clean Buildings Package of legislation in Washington State.

House Bill 1257 and Senate Bill 5293 take a multi-faceted approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from both new and existing buildings. The contribution of the buildings sector to climate change is often overlooked, but it cannot be if we are to address climate change in Washington State. Not only does the buildings sector account for 27% of Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions, but these emissions have risen by 50% since 1990. We haven’t been heading in the right direction, but this comprehensive legislation will help us get on track. Here are some of the highlights of how it does this.

Upgrades existing commercial buildings

New buildings must be built to specific energy efficiency standards under our state energy code, but right now, the vast majority of buildings—existing buildings—slip under the radar and actually become less efficient over time as they age. The Clean Buildings Package would change this. The Department of Commerce will set mandatory energy efficiency targets for different classes of large commercial buildings. However, before these targets are enforced, building owners will be able to apply for monetary incentives that will help them make efficiency upgrades and comply sooner. This will be a win for property owners, who will get assistance in improving their buildings; for tenants, who will experience more comfortable buildings and lower energy costs; and for our economy, since the energy efficiency industry creates local jobs.

Allows local jurisdictions to adopt residential stretch codes

Many cities and countries across the state have committed to greenhouse gas reductions but lack the authority to drive these reductions in certain parts of the economy. One reason is because they cannot adopt energy codes for residential building that are more efficient than the state code. The Clean Buildings Package outlines a tiered residential code with two more efficient “stretch” levels that local jurisdictions will have the option to adopt. This provides local governments with the freedom to adopt more progressive codes and gives them a tool to reduce their emissions, while at the same time providing certainty and understanding for builders since stretch code levels will simply build upon the base code.

Requires more electric-vehicle ready infrastructure

Large new buildings should not lock in carbon emissions and dependence on technologies that are fading, given that these buildings will likely remain standing for many decades. The Clean Buildings Package increases the amount of parking that must be ready to accommodate electric vehicle charging for new multifamily, commercial, and institutional buildings that include parking. This ensures these buildings will accommodate a technology that will soon be the norm rather than need expensive renovations to adapt later on. Incorporating electric vehicle charging capacity from the start is financially, strategically, and environmentally a good move.

Ensures natural gas utilities pursue conservation measures

The continued use of natural gas for heating air and/or water in our buildings is a primary contributor to our greenhouse gas emissions. The Clean Buildings Package acknowledges this and instructs natural gas utilities to pursue all cost-effective conservation measures. Crucially, the cost-effective calculation must include the societal cost of carbon. This will not only ensure utilities are accounting for the costs of climate change and of climate inaction in their decision-making, but it will help customers reduce their reliance on natural gas. In addition, natural gas utilities will have to offer a renewable natural gas option to their customers, whereby customers could choose to purchase renewable natural gas as a portion of the gas they purchase.

We’re excited to support the Clean Buildings Package as it moves through the Washington legislature! If passed, this legislation will reduce our carbon emissions by 4.3 million metric tons. It will also spur local energy efficiency jobs and save building tenants and owners money through lower energy bills. The Clean Buildings Package is a smart step forward for our environment, our economy, and our health.

Author Bio

Leah Missik

Senior Policy Manager, Climate Solutions

Leah develops and implements policies and conducts research that will accelerate our transition to a clean energy economy, with a focus on the transportation sector. She joined Climate Solutions in January 2019.

Prior to joining Climate Solutions, Leah was the Senior Program Manager of Built Green, a green home certification program in Washington State. Leah holds her Master of Public Affairs from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, with concentrations in Environmental Policy and International Affairs. She received her B.A. from Kenyon College in 2010. Leah is a Jackson Foundation Leadership Fellow, an alum of Leadership Tomorrow, and a Senior Fellow of the Environmental Leadership Program.

As a volunteer, Leah collaborates with Russian environmental, human rights, and anti-war activists, translating their work into English. With the rest of her time, Leah enjoys long-distance running and bicycling, adventuring, and practicing her Russian.

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