Policy Tracker: 2019 Review

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As 2019 comes to a close and we look towards the start of a new decade, there is a lot on which to reflect. I think about the calendar year turning to 2020 and know that leaves us with just 10 years to drastically reduce our emissions to prevent catastrophic climate impacts. Ten years doesn’t seem like a long time, yet so much can happen in that time. During the last 10 years, I graduated high school, got my master's degree, and landed my dream job. For climate, it can mean reducing emissions by at least 45 percent.

We can do this. States and cities have been leaving their mark on 2019 by pushing leadership to the next level. Let’s take a closer look.

Leadership at the state level has been ramping up decarbonization policy. Maine swore in new Governor Janet Mills this year and made a clear commitment to addressing climate change. Over 10 bills were signed into law, which are aimed to help achieve the Governor’s goals of 80 percent renewable energy by 2030 and emissions reductions of 80 percent by 2050. The legislature set the bar for transitioning the heating and cooling market away from fossil fuels to renewable thermal technology by setting a target of installing 100,000 high performance air source heat pumps (ASHP) by 2025.

New Jersey reaffirmed the legislature’s concern around climate change and revised the Global Warming Response Act to consider short-lived climate pollutants, such as methane. It declares that a comprehensive strategy to reduce short-lived climate pollutants is in the public interest, and requires the Department of Environmental Protection to establish a GHG monitoring and reporting program, and adopt interim benchmarks necessary to achieve 80 percent less than the 2006 statewide GHG emissions level by 2050.

The New Jersey 2019 Energy Master Plan sets forth a strategic vision for a sustainable future and reflects on new goals for the state:

  1. Putting New Jersey on a path to achieve 100% clean energy by 2050
  2. Growing New Jersey’s clean energy economy
  3. Ensuring reliability and affordability for all customers
  4. Reducing the state’s carbon footprint
  5. Advancing new technologies for all New Jersey residents

These targets will help the state achieve its climate goals by integrating energy efficiency, strategic electrification, and renewable energy into a plan that establishes strategies to achieve these goals over the next 10 years. In order to stay on track towards 2050, New Jersey should adopt interim goals.

New York implemented lofty goals in 2019 by passing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. This act adopts measures to put the state on a path to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent by 2050, with 15 percent carbon capture. This commits New York to net zero emissions in all sectors of the economy by 2050. New York is the first state to codify carbon neutrality into state law.

In addition, the act creates a Climate Action Council to develop strategies for decarbonization across the economy and mandates that 70 percent of electricity is generated by renewable sources by 2040. The icing on the cake is that the law mandates at least 35 percent of overall benefits from climate programs are received by underserved communities. This is crucial because the transition to a decarbonized economy must be equitable, must include all communities, and must address the systemic changes needed to ensure a socially just transition away from fossil fuels. In developing strategies, the Climate Action Council should include members from these communities as primary decision-makers so their voices are heard and are no longer marginalized.

This type of leadership is also being seen at the city level. Providence, Rhode Island released a Climate Justice Plan. In 2016, Mayor Gina Raimondo signed an executive order that set a goal for Providence to become a carbon neutral city by 2050. This plan sets Providence on a path to meet this goal, in a way that ensures no one is excluded from the benefits of a healthier, thriving community. In developing the plan, equity was placed at the forefront and included community perspectives of those most impacted by climate change. This is the change we need to see across all states and communities. The state of New York and the city of Providence, RI are leading the transition to an equitable carbon-free future by addressing systemic issues head on.

There has been an important trend this year focused on decarbonizing existing buildings. Montpelier, Vermont is currently working through ordinance language that will establish energy efficiency disclosure requirements for existing homes when listed for sale. Disclosure policies have a track record of increasing capitalization of energy efficiency features in the real estate market, providing a market signal to value this information in the transaction process. Burlington, Vermont is establishing efficiency standards for rental units based on energy intensity, requiring building owners to go through a retrofit process to improve efficiency and reduce total MMBtus. City council approved moving forward to develop the standard, which will essentially modify the current time of sale energy efficiency ordinance that requires the cost-effective measures to be completed at time of sale to also be a part of the minimum housing code that is enforced by the Department of Permitting and Inspections. The proposed change will apply to rental units with energy intensity of 50,000 BTUs per square foot. Rental units are one of the hardest building types to reach with energy efficiency because renters do not have as much control in adopting measures. Adopting standards for rental units will push building owners to improve their housing stock and provide renters with more comfortable places to live.

New York City and Washington D.C. have also taken great strides in addressing existing buildings by establishing building energy performance standards (BEPS). In both cities, buildings account for a majority of greenhouse gas emissions (74 percent in D.C. and 67 percent in NYC). In order to dramatically reduce GHG emissions, public and private buildings must be made significantly more energy efficient. The District of Columbia passed its landmark bill, the Cleanenergy DC Omnibus Amendment Act Of 2018, in order to address the efficiency of the built environment by establishing requirements for large building to reduce their energy. New York City followed suit in 2019 passing Local Law 97 that sets annual carbon intensity limits on building emissions, including emissions from consumed electricity by buildings 25,000 square feet and larger. Work to improve buildings’ energy efficiency will create local jobs, improve resiliency, reduce energy costs, increase property values, and make buildings healthier places to live and work. Boston and Cambridge, MA have also announced their intention to develop BEPS in the near future.

BEPS play off benchmarking policies that make energy use transparent and help cities establish policies and program to improve efficiency of existing buildings. Benchmarking helps building owners better manage their facilities and determine ways to reduce costs. By adding performance standards, cities can intervene and mandate that buildings become a part of the solution to achieve climate goals.

Furthermore, New York City Local Law 33, which was signed into law in 2018, will go into effect in the New Year. This law requires large buildings (25,000 sq. ft. +) to display an energy letter grade at all public entrances. Over 40,000 of the one million buildings in New York will soon get report cards. The grade will be based on the buildings energy use and associated GHG emissions. Transparency through labels, such as a letter grade, will provide prospective occupants with a better understanding of the energy use of a building so they can make informed decisions. It will also encourage buildings with lower grades to voluntarily make improvements.

This leadership at the state and local level is driving the region towards a reduction in fossil fuel use. By acknowledging the importance of integrating energy efficiency, renewable energy, and strategic electrification, policies are establishing clear strategies to achieve near-term and long-term climate goals. These policies are also sending market signals for high performing technology, including a huge uptake in air source heat pumps. In 2020, it would be great to see more work to create policies for grid interactive buildings and work to evolve the electric grid to meet the needs to an evolving energy system. With more distributed energy resources, it will be critical for buildings to function as flexible loads signaling to the grid. This will further reduce GHG emissions from the building sector.

NEEP hopes to see more leadership for appliance standards in 2020. There is still opportunity in the coming weeks for D.C. to pass appliance standards before year end, and a bigger push next year will send a clear message that technology can also significantly reduce GHG emissions and play a role in achieving climate goals.

2020 needs to serve as a turning point where emissions start to go down at a faster rate than we have seen in the past. This will help us achieve our 2030 goals. Thanks to leadership from states and communities this year, a lot of progress was made in passing landmark policies in the building sector. We have a great starting point from which to work in the New Year. NEEP’s Building Decarbonization Public Policy Framework is an essential tool for states to continue this progress by identifying areas we must address to reduce GHG from buildings.

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