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Reaching for Better Buildings

Green_home_futureJuly 2021. The California Energy Commission estimates that residential and commercial buildings account for almost 70% of electricity and 55% of natural gas consumption in the State. In Thousand Oaks, these two energy sources account for 4% (electricity) and 20% (natural gas) of the City’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from buildings. There are two ways to reduce these emissions – become more energy efficient or use energy supplied through cleaner renewable resources.

The good news is that renewable energy is available to everyone in Thousand Oaks. The switch to a default of 100 percent renewable electricity through Clean Power Alliance occurred in early 2019 and has had the single largest impact on the City’s GHG emissions, reducing them 18%. The State’s timetable for greening the electric grid ensures that customers remaining with SCE will also be supplied with greener electricity over time.

The trickier task is increasing energy efficiency in buildings. This is more easily accomplished during new construction than in the existing building stock. Half of California’s buildings were built before California established its Building Energy Efficiency Standards in 1978, and although the State’s green building and energy efficiency standards are updated every three years, they apply primarily to new buildings.

To tackle efficiency in existing buildings, many cities are turning to Reach Codes. These are local building codes that “reach” beyond the state minimum requirements for energy-related measures. Reach Codes can apply to new construction projects and additions, alterations, and renovations in existing buildings, mandating cost-effective measures that increase resiliency and promote the development of healthy, safe, reduced-emissions buildings. Reach codes can be either prescriptive, requiring specific measures to be put in place, or performance-based, in which case buildings have to be built to a higher energy efficiency standard than the State’s existing requirement. Dozens of cities throughout the State have passed Reach Codes to accelerate GHG emission reductions and achieve local policy objectives.

The Reach Codes with the most profound implications for reducing emissions from natural gas are known as “electrification” or “building decarbonization” and prohibit natural gas connections in new residential and/or commercial construction. This brings an additional health benefit from the reduction of indoor air pollution. An alternative that some cities have adopted is an “electric-preferred” option in which developers can choose to go ell-electric OR use gas as well, but if they do so, the building must be built to a higher energy efficiency standard.

Other Reach Codes can include solar requirements for buildings not covered under the existing California solar mandate (e.g. additions to homes, commercial buildings), electric heat pumps for pools, and additional cool roof requirements among others.

For transitioning existing buildings to clean electricity, Reach Codes can be adopted to require that when gas appliances are replaced, an electric alternative is used, or to establish a phase-out date by which time all newly-installed equipment must be electric. Information disclosure is another way to tackle energy efficiency in existing buildings by requiring disclosure of building energy use to potential buyers at the time of a property listing and by requiring apartment owners to benchmark and disclose energy costs for their rental properties.

You are invited to share your ideas and thoughts on a cleaner energy future for the City of Thousand Oaks. To join the City in its climate action planning process, visit toaks.org/climateaction.

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