Push for healthy building, safety, and energy efficiency

Building electrification and building decarbonization should be prioritized. Energy efficiency should be included in the 100% policy, but the burden to change behavior should not be placed on frontline communities.

Advocates should promote holistic and health- based buildings and housing. We spend about 90% of our time indoors, where pollutant levels are often higher than those outside. Indoor pollution
is estimated to cause thousands of cancer deaths and hundreds of thousands of respiratory health problems each year.[1]

Policy recommendations

Promote Building Electrification. Buildings use fossil fuels in heating, cooking, and laundry. Building electrification should be a primary way to transition to 100% regenerative energy, while making buildings safer and saving money. According to Environment California, the benefits of building electrification include:

  • Increased Efficiency: Electric heat recovery chillers, or heat pumps, are twice as efficient as natural gas systems in providing heating and hot water.
  • Cost Savings: Building electrification is becoming more cost-effective, and is already economical in some cases, as technologies improve and use becomes more widespread. Electric heat pumps, for example, are already cost-competitive with other technologies in some cases because they are highly efficient and can replace both heating and air conditioning units.
  • Environmental Benefits: Electric heating, hot water, and cooling systems make use of electricity increasingly generated by clean, renewable energy—thus generating less air pollution and creating fewer greenhouse gas emissions than oil or gas fired building systems.
  • Safety: Electric water and space heating does not come with the hazards of some gas and oil-fired systems, including carbon monoxide leaks and explosions.[2]

Advance Energy Efficiency. Energy efficiency is an important factor in achieving energy democracy. However, energy efficiency efforts often place the burden squarely on frontline communities to change their behavior. Instead, they should focus on structural change. A strong 100% regenerative policy should be coupled with a strong energy efficiency policy. This holistic approach of combining efficiency and renewable energy has myriad benefits including:

  • Minimized energy load
  • More affordable renewable energy
  • Greater peak demand reductions
  • Vastly more opportunities for high road careers

Push for Building Decarbonization. Advocates should set targets to lower emissions from buildings. “Building emissions spiked 10 percent nationally in 2018, driving one of the largest national emissions increases in decades...About half of all building emissions result from electricity use, while the other half come from gas and propane appliances used for heating...[The California] Building Decarbonization Coalition lays out a plan for the state to cut building emissions 20 percent in the next six years and 40 percent by 2030—and to adopt zero-emission building codes for residential and commercial buildings by 2025 and 2027, respectively. Residential buildings produce roughly two-thirds of the state’s building emissions, and commercial buildings produce around one-third.”[3]

Demand zero energy homes and buildings. Zero energy homes and buildings can include:

  • Weatherization of homes and buildings: HomeWise Weatherization program in Seattle[4] provides free energy efficiency improvements to qualified homes, increasing comfort and saving money. Improvements could include:
  • Energy audits
  • Insulation
  • Air sealing
  • Furnace repair or replacement
  • High efficiency appliances, building materials, and HVAC systems
  • Renewable energy such as solar PV and solar thermal

Set standards for new housing and buildings.

  • Housing design that facilitates renewable energy installations and energy efficiency.
  • Provisions for affordable housing and financing, so that it does not result in pricing low-income families out of their own communities.

Promote Demand Response. In demand response programs, utilities ask customers to be mindful of their energy use during peak hours. Demand response programs often include incentives or penalties to change behavior. Demand response provides an opportunity for consumers to play a significant role in the operation of the electric grid by reducing or shifting their electricity usage during peak periods in response to time-based rates or other forms of financial incentives.[5]

  • At present, demand response in the residential sector is typically restricted to turning off air-conditioners for short periods of time during peak hours in return for financial compensation for consumers. But in a smart grid with solar and wind, demand response can be applied to a much wider array of uses, with potentially greater returns for consumers. But these will require smart appliances and communications capability.
  • An equitable transition should ensure that households of all income levels are able to participate in demand response and that renters have the same types of opportunities as homeowners.
  • Strong, accessible public education about demand response programs should be incorporated into 100% regenerative policies.
  • However, states may include exceptions on demand response in their policies to account for households with time-inflexible energy needs such as medical equipment, or ensure that these types of households have strong opportunities to access storage assets as well.

Push for assistance and inclusive financing for deep investments particularly for energy efficiency programs in low-income communities and frontline communities.

Link to anti-displacement policies:

  • No rent increases. Include displacement protections to ensure there are no rent increases with energy efficiency upgrades and net zero energy building development. Ensure tenants’ rights are incorporated into the policy with building improvements. (See Advance Anti-Gentrification and Anti-Displacement section for more background).
  • Transit oriented development and healthy buildings should not lead to displacement. Advocates should use caution when exploring transit-oriented development with healthy housing. Particularly for urban contexts, where policies focus on walkable and pedestrian friendly communities close to transportation corridors transit-oriented development may lead to displacement. (See Prioritize Transportation Justice section for background).

Examples

Example of Healthy Homes bill: California’s Healthy Homes Act (Assembly Bill 1232) sponsored by the Asian Pacific Environmental Network creates and expands anti-displacement protections for state energy efficiency programs serving low-income customers, attempts to prevent rent hikes by landlords who seek to benefit from energy upgrades, and guides agencies in data collection to ensure enforceability and to better penetrate the unregulated affordable housing market.[6]

Example of affordable housing incentive: Minneapolis’s 4d program preserves affordable homes in Minneapolis by helping apartment building owners obtain property tax reductions if they agree to keep 20% or more of their rental units affordable. The program also helps owners make existing buildings greener through cost sharing for energy efficiency improvements and solar installations.[7]

References

  1. Healthy Buildings, Healthy People - A Vision for the 21st Century.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed 26 Jul. 2019.
  2. Building Electrification.” Environment California. Accessed 26 Jul. 2019.
  3. A Roadmap to Decarbonize California’s Buildings, Building Decarbonization Coalition.” Building Decarbonization Coalition, 2 Feb. 2019. Accessed 24 Jul. 2019.
  4. Weatherization.” Seattle Office of Housing. Accessed 26 Jul. 2019.
  5. Demand Response.” U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Electricity. Accessed 26 Jul. 2019.
  6. Environmental Justice in the 2019 Legislative Session.” California Environmental Justice Alliance. Accessed 26 Jul. 2019.
  7. 4d Affordable Housing Incentive Program.” Community Planning and Economic Development, 21 Jun. 2019. Accessed 26 Jul. 2019.