New Initiatives for Safe, Affordable, Climate-Friendly Homes and Buildings

The 2023 legislative session presents a vital opportunity to make progress in achieving our climate goals and protect families and communities from ever-worsening climate impacts. OEC is excited to support a “Building Resilience” policy package this session that will cut pollution and increase the climate resilience of our homes and buildings

 

architect in hardhat working on wiring

Photo credit: Emmanuel Ikwuegbu

Recognizing the vital need to transform and expand Oregon’s building stock in a way that maximizes climate, public health, affordability, and job creation benefits for Oregon, the 2022 legislature established the “Resilient, Efficient Buildings (REBuilding) Task Force.” The REBuilding Task Force included 27 members representing labor, builders, public health, utilities, affordable housing, environmental justice, local government, and climate experts, who met regularly over nine months to discuss and consider building decarbonization policy options for the 2023 legislative session.

After 16 meetings, four surveys, and an extensive independent modeling process, the REBuilding Task Force voted to adopt a final report identifying specific policy priorities to support building decarbonization and maximize public health, affordability, and job creation benefits. The final report identified policies to advance building electrification–e.g. shifting away from fossil gas toward clean electricity for heating and cooking–and efficiency–e.g. reducing energy waste by improving how productively a building uses resources. These include measures that will help ensure new buildings are constructed smart from the start, and support upgrades through retrofits to existing buildings, with an emphasis on ensuring affordable access to resilient, healthy homes for all. 

Task Force members recommended that the 2023 legislature move forward with policies to:

1. Enhance the efficiency of the state’s largest existing buildings

Recognizing the vital role of policies that encourage energy efficiency in reducing energy waste, lowering energy bills, and cutting air and climate pollution, Task Force members recommended the legislature advance a Building Performance Standard (BPS) for existing buildings. BPS policies establish specific performance levels that buildings must achieve and can be designed to target improvements in a variety of building aspects—including energy use, water use, and emissions. Task Force members showed strong support for a BPS that reduces emissions by at least 40% by 2030, with an emphasis on existing commercial buildings, which are the largest source of climate pollution in the buildings sector.

2. Ensure new buildings are constructed as efficiently as possible.

 Approximately a third of buildings in Oregon that will exist in 2050 have yet to be built, and buildings constructed today may last for up to 100 years or more. That means every new building not built to standards that reflect our climate emergency will hamper our ability to reach our climate goals for decades to come. At the same time, our cities are growing rapidly and housing is in high demand across the state, which means that jobs constructing clean, efficient buildings will be a continuous need.

With this in mind, Task Force members included a recommendation for energy-efficient building codes for new construction. As outlined in the final report, building energy codes can require new construction and major renovations in existing buildings. These code updates can be targeted to reduce both embodied carbon–or the climate pollution associated with the manufacturing, transportation, installation, and disposal of building materials–and energy consumption–or the amount of energy used for electricity, space, and water heating–and will in turn save families and businesses money on utility bills. 

Many builders across Oregon are already building affordably “above code” to maximize efficiency and cost savings. These code improvements should focus on maximizing benefits for low-income communities, renters, rural communities, and communities of color.

3. Expand programs to support energy efficiency and the widespread adoption of electric heat pumps and heat pump water heaters.

Renters, homeowners, and businesses can save money on their utility bills when we reduce the energy wasted when powering buildings. One of the easiest ways to reduce energy waste and costs is through improvements to space heating and cooling and water heating. For example, electric heat pumps–which provide both cooling and heating–can be up to five times more efficient and save Oregonians up to $3,000 over the systems’ lifetime compared to their gas counterparts.

The task force identified policies that promote, incentivize, and/or subsidize energy efficiency and heating and cooling, specifically electric heat pumps. This could include expanding heat pump and water heater incentive programs and removing barriers for customers who wish to upgrade to electric appliances. These policies will also be critical to leveraging unprecedented federal funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes billions of dollars in incentives and rebates for households to install efficient, all-electric appliances.

4. Improve the efficiency and resilience of public buildings, specifically schools.

Finally, state and local governments have an important role to play in leading by example. This could include policies to improve the energy efficiency of and reduce emissions from state-owned and publicly-financed buildings, specifically public schools.

Next steps

The 2023 legislature has the chance to support these and other policies to help transform Oregon’s building stock in a way that will protect public health, improve energy affordability, and support local, family-wage jobs that can’t be exported.

Near-term legislative action on building decarbonization is also key to ensuring that Oregon is well-positioned to leverage unprecedented federal investments, including billions of dollars in rebates and incentives for building code updates, energy efficiency upgrades, weatherization, and beneficial electrification for new and existing buildings, as well as workforce development programs. 

 

Join OEC in supporting a Building Resilience policy package in the 2023 legislative session by making sure you’re signed up to receive our GAIN action alerts. We’ll share updates and opportunities to voice your support as these bills move through the legislative process. 

 

 

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