On the road to net zero energy homes in Oregon?

Oregon has long held a well-earned reputation as a national and international leader in green building technology.  Oregon was one of the top states in construction under LEED certification for years, and still regularly cracks the top ten states per capita for LEED certified construction. Several Oregon builders, such as SolAire Homes in Bend, Oregon, already are building net zero energy homes that use energy efficiency and solar to meet heating, cooling and electricity needs.  These buildings save their owners money from day one in lower utility bills.

Unfortunately, Oregon has fallen far behind any leadership role in developing building codes that support energy efficiency.  While our neighbors to the north and south have embraced a net zero energy future in new construction, requiring regular three year upgrades to their building codes to achieve the net zero energy goals of the Architecture 2030 Challenge for Planning, Oregon has struggled just to keep up with minimum federal requirements for energy efficiency in building codes.  

Moving aggressively toward net zero energy homes and buildings in Oregon would achieve a trifecta: It would greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help Oregon achieve its statutory climate change goals; it would save building owners, homeowners, and renters over a billion dollars over the next three decades on lower utility bills; and it would improve the indoor air quality and livability of our work and home environments.

As recently as 2009, Oregon started on what appeared to be a path toward net zero energy. That year, the Legislature enacted Senate Bill 79, which took a significant step in reducing emissions in the built environment. It required building codes to be updated to achieve a 15-25% increase in energy efficiency in newly constructed commercial buildings, and a 10-15% increase in energy efficiency in newly built residential buildings. It also instructed the Director of the Department of Consumer and Business Services to increase the energy efficiency of the building codes on a regular basis, and required the Director to consider the ambitious long term goals of Architecture 2030 in every upgrade to the code.

Unfortunately, Oregon has not taken any additional meaningful steps to improve energy efficiency through building codes since 2009.  It is time for Oregon to reclaim a leadership position in building codes and to join the vanguard of states leading the way in pursuit of net zero energy homes and businesses. 

Today, the Legislature’s House Business and Labor Committee held an informational hearing on net zero energy building codes. Hopefully, it is a first step toward enacting legislation in the 2017 session to require net zero energy in new construction by 2030.

Author Bio

David Van't Hof

Senior Fellow, Climate Solutions

David is an attorney with his own policy and law practice in Portland Oregon. He focuses his practice in the areas of sustainability, clean technology, renewable energy and carbon regulation, drawing from his experience as Sustainability Policy Advisor to former Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski.  In that capacity, he led the state’s participation in the Western Climate Initiative and in developing the state’s nationally recognized climate change and renewable energy policies. David has served on numerous renewable energy and energy efficiency boards and works with others on a contract basis both providing legal and policy expertise.

David was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal (1989-1991).  He earned his law degree (J.D., cum laude, 1994) from the University of Michigan Law School and his undergraduate degree (B.A. Philosophy 1988) from Trinity College, Hartford CT.

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