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SWEEP offers insights for local governments who want to decarbonize housing

BOULDER, Colo. – Electrification of buildings has emerged in the last year as a major topic of discussion in the broader conversation about how to decarbonize the economies of Colorado and other states.

In California, Berkeley fired the gun over the natural gas bow, so to speak, in July 2019 prohibiting natural gas in all new construction, for reasons of public health and safety. It did so after finding itself lagging its 2020 climate action goals by 18%. Other California communities soon followed, as did Brookline, Mass.

None have done so in Colorado or other Rocky Mountain states, but Jim Meyers offers a menu of options for local communities that want to move the needle on electrification. He’s the buildings program director for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, an organization based in Boulder that has operations in all the Colorado River Basin states except for Wyoming.

Jim Meyers

“Electrifying buildings is one of the most important tools for reaching zero carbon in the built environment,” says Meyers, author of a new report, “Building Electrification: How Cities and Counties are Implementing Electrification Policies —with Adoptable Language.”

See also a one-page infographic.

The report seeks to walk community leaders and activists through the full spectrum of electrification policies they could adopt, along with examples of communities that have already gone down this path. This report goes a step further, providing code language for local governments to adopt directly into their building codes.

Meyers knows that world very well, as he has participated in 3 International Code Council committees and is now on the ICC Sustainability Membership Council’s “Zero Energy” and “Decarbonization” subcommittees. He lives in suburbia, Centennial, south of Denver, and has been with SWEEP for 11 years.

The report lays out a menu of options, from those who want a full-immersion Baptist experience of electric only to those who want to sprinkle a little baptismal water across their building sector.

For example, with electric-only, all heating, water heating, cooking and clothes drying must be done with electricity – as no natural gas lines will run into the house or building. “The road to adoption will depend upon the current status of the energy code, the city’s ambition to reach climate goals, as well as the relationships between the building department, sustainability department, local building industry, and public,” the report says.

This is from the Aug. 14, 2020, issue of Big Pivots. Go HERE to subscribe.

Another approach is called electric-preferred. It falls short of an outright ban on fossil fuels but does bump up the energy efficiency requirements when fossil fuels are used. Some communities have required new homes or buildings with natural gas to be 10% more efficient than their all-electric counterparts or, in some cases, offset the natural gas consumption with solar.

Are the Rocky Mountain states ready for building electrification? The basic premise of this new wave of electrification are heat pumps, milking the heat (or coolness, as the season requires) from the experience source, either the air or, with more expense, the ground or water. That technology is evolving—but is still viewed with some wariness in cold-weather places.

Xcel Energy, for example, has warned that it’s not quite ready for prime-time along Colorado’s Front Range. In mountain communities, it gets far colder. Meyers’s report points out that technology can now reach -20 degrees F, and dual-fuel can be an option. It will take a while for full market acceptance, he says.

But his conclusion is more bold. “Increased electrification is a must for the southwest,” he writes. ‘All-electric buildings present significant opportunities for municipalities to support economic savings for new construction, long-term operating costs savings for owners/tenants, and reductions in carbon emissions for the community.”

See also: The next energy frontier

Colorado’s natural gas pivot

Colorado’s fourth biogas project


Allen Best
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