California’s buildings can save energy, cut greenhouse gases and create

Environment and budget conscious Californians searching for ways to reduce their carbon footprints and save money need look no further than the aging buildings where many of us live and work to find the state’s largest untapped source of energy savings and greenhouse gas emission reductions.  Updating these buildings to make them more livable and affordable also has tremendous potential to help revive the real estate market and be a leading source of green-collar jobs.

There is no air quality improvement or greenhouse gas reduction policy that is lower cost or cleaner than energy efficiency.  We in California know that well, for over the past 30 years we have led the world in efficiency standards for new buildings.  Known as Title 24, building efficiency standards adopted by the California Energy Commission have driven tremendous innovations, resulting in new buildings that consume a fraction of the energy of their older counterparts.

Our building efficiency standards have been an important part of California’s overall leadership on energy efficiency, producing energy savings that have improved our environment, increased our economic competitiveness, and reduced our dependence on fossil fuels.

However, over 70 percent of California’s 13 million residential buildings and over five billion square feet of commercial structures were built before the implementation of Title 24 in the early 1980’s.  For the most part, these older buildings have been left behind.  While a makeshift array of local ordinances, utility rebates and individual initiatives has resulted in some exemplary building improvements, the vast majority of older buildings remain way below their energy efficiency performance potential.

That’s all about to change.

The energy efficiency retrofit market recently received a major boost from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), which is providing billion of dollars for renovating existing buildings. California will tap its award of over $400 million to stimulate efficiency retrofit activity through 2013 and beyond.  And the California Public Utilities Commission just approved an unprecedented commitment of $3.1 billion over the next three years for utility-funded energy efficiency programs.

These investments coupled with a bill that is currently on the Governor’s desk could push California’s leadership from gold to platinum. Assembly Bill 758, jointly authored by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and myself, provides the authority needed to get the job done. Assembly Bill 758 directs the California Energy Commission to build on its Title 24 leadership to develop and implement a program to achieve efficiency improvements in our existing building stock across the state.

Putting federal stimulus funds, the recently approved utility funds and AB 758 to work promises to create thousands of new jobs to aid California’s economic recovery.  According to the Earth Policy Institute, a $1 billion investment in retrofitting buildings will create 6,750 construction, manufacturing and installation jobs, while a similar investment in coal energy produces only 868 jobs.  Jumpstarting building retrofits is good news for California’s construction workers who have been hit hardest in the economic downturn of the past year.

These investments will also produce direct savings to businesses and consumers. Based on analysis by the California Energy Commission, cost-effective energy efficiency measures applied to existing buildings could reduce statewide electricity consumption 9%, lower peak electricity demand by 11%, and cut natural gas consumption by 5%.  At these rates, the energy costs paid by California businesses and residents could be reduced nearly $5 billion.

AB 758 has passed the Legislature with broad support and bipartisan votes.  The bill is now awaiting action from Governor Schwarzenegger.  The approach outlined in AB 758 is balanced, flexible, and builds on the success of existing programs.  By signing AB 758, the Governor can further his leadership on climate change and economic recovery at the same time.  

Implementation of this bill will unlock the tremendous untapped potential energy savings and greenhouse gas emission reductions that lie in existing buildings, saving energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating green-collar jobs for a better, more prosperous California.

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