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Colorado Energy Office has $9 million in grant money available to help local governments improve building performance


by Allen Best

Colorado has been both pushing and pulling local jurisdictions to higher standards for buildings, the state’s fifth largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Helping in this has been $4 million allocated by state legislators, now bolstered by $5 million in federal grants.

Colorado has 64 counties and 271 towns and cities, all with the authority to enact building codes. Some have not, and they will be permitted to continue to be without codes. But a 2022 law, HB 22-1362, “Building Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” created a pathway designed to help the state’s buildings reduce their emissions.

It allowed the local governments to adopt a more recent building code before July 1 of this year. Some did—and that includes at least a few places that had never had building codes before. For example, Alamosa and several other local counties and cities in the San Luis Valley united to adopt the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code.

Another 20 to 25 jurisdictions went in the opposite direction, going above and beyond the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code. Crested Butte stands out, with its decision to ban natural gas in those buildings yet to be constructed. Aspen elevated its code, but stopped short of banning natural gas in new buildings. Eagle County and most of its members towns and cities are in the process of adopting codes, but critical decisions remain to be made.

For those jurisdictions that lagged, legislators in 2022 set a deadline of July 1, 2023. After that, they said, municipalities and counties were required to adopt and enforce a code that meets or exceeds the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code and also the state’s model electric-ready and solar-ready code when updating any other building code.

The law required a new Energy Code Board to develop model electric- and solar-ready codes before June 1, 2023. The board met its deadline. The code requires new and substantially renovated buildings to include pre-wiring for roof-top solar panels, high-efficiency electric appliances, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

This code will be the new minimum code for jurisdictions that have not already upgraded.

Adam Berry the senior program manager for building codes at the Colorado Energy Office, says the new codes require wiring necessary for rooftop solar but will not require the solar. “Those preparations could also benefit other uses,” he says. “If, for whatever reason that solar is not the ideal path, they can still use it to support other technologies being used in the buildings as needed.”

There will be another model code, this for carbon, that must be adopted by the energy board before July 2025.

Those local jurisdictions have from July 1, 2023, to July 1, 2026, to update their building codes to these higher specifications now adopted by the state. In 2026, they will have the elevated task of adopting the low-energy code.

To help local jurisdictions pick up the pace, legislators also allocated funds to assist local governments hire consultants and so forth. The Colorado Energy Office now has $2 million available. Jurisdictions can apply individually for grants of up to $125,000.

The Colorado Energy Office hopes to find applicants that offer simultaneous benefits across multiple communities through partnerships. Think a county and all or at least most of its towns. Or as in the case of the San Luis Valley, multiple counties and towns. Those partnerships can receive up to $250,000.

“With so much new construction in Colorado, it’s especially important that new buildings are built to maximize energy efficiency and accommodate clean energy technologies, such as rooftop solar, electric appliances, and electric vehicle chargers,” said Will Toor, executive director of the energy office.

“This funding will ease the cost burden on local governments of adopting and enforcing these energy codes, which will accelerate the adoption process and ensure new homes and buildings across the state are ready for Colorado’s clean energy future.”

Colorado’s $5 million in federal grants come via the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law toward adoption of elevated building codes and to support implementation of Colorado’s building code and performance standards requirements.

Implicit in the Colorado law was the knowledge that requiring new buildings to install the infrastructure necessary to support clean energy technology during construction would be less costly than retrofitting the buildings in the future.

A 2022 study by the New Buildings Institute calculated that an all-electric single-family home is $7,500 to $8,200 less costly to construct than the baseline code home. It also reported that electric-ready construction saves the homeowner thousands of dollars compared to retrofitting to accommodate electric equipment replacements.

“Whether on-site renewables or electric vehicles or electric appliances, there are a lot of opportunities to directly reduce emission from our buildings—as we are in parallel working with our utilities to drive down emission from the electric sector 80% by 2030,” the New Buildings study reported.

Allen Best
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