Seattle City Council Approves ECC-Backed Energy Efficiency Resolution
The Seattle City Council has unanimously approved a resolution encouraging owners of existing commercial buildings to voluntarily undertake energy efficiency improvements in order to reduce energy use and resulting carbon emissions. But if the pace of carbon reductions is not in line with those stated in the city’s 2013 Climate Action Plan (CAP), the Office of Sustainability (OSE) will be charged with developing binding regulations, based on a framework for carbon reductions developed by EC Seattle.
According EC Seattle Director Steve Gelb, consultations with a number of energy efficiency organizations indicate that the Seattle resolution is the first of its kind to address actually regulating energy use in existing buildings – which, in Seattle, will account for half of the structures expected to be in use in 2050, when the city has pledged to attain carbon neutrality.
Gelb said that about a year ago, the EC Seattle Local Council (LC) approved the resolution, based on input from stakeholders representing LC members and additional community-based organizations, labor unions and businesses; local electric utility Seattle City Light; and city agencies. At that point, the LC sought backing for the resolution from City Council members – a process that culminated in the unanimous October 11 vote.
Gelb explained the resolution’s carrot and stick approach when he testified before the council’s Energy and Environment Committee on September 27. Energy and water efficiency improvements, he told committee members, bring significant benefits to the community and toward creation of a clean-energy economy, including reduced carbon emissions and pollution, improved health, job creation, money savings and increased competitiveness.
And, he added, “[building] owners making good efficiency decisions in the ongoing maintenance, upkeep, replacement and remodeling of their buildings should be able to achieve the [CAP] targets in the normal course of business.” Those targets require carbon emission reductions of 27 percent in the commercial building sector by 2020 compared with 2008 levels, keeping the city on track to achieve carton neutrality by 2050.
But, he continued, if a required 2020 report to OSE indicates that by 2022 the city will not be “on track to meet our CAP goals, then OSE will set efficiency target policies and regulations for all commercial buildings over 50,000 square feet.”
In addition to requiring mandatory energy savings leading to environmental improvements and the curbing of climate change, the resolution requires that city-funded energy efficiency upgrade projects “incorporate equity-enhancing requirements for contractors, owners or property managers” to ensure creation of quality jobs and a diverse workforce. It also requires that at the city apply its racial equity toolkit when implementing energy efficiency policies.
The resolution credits EC Seattle for promoting various support structures and incentives that facilitate cuts in building energy use, including on-bill repayment, energy bonds, green banks and/or other finance mechanisms; “Efficiency Support Centers” to coordinate incentive programs and project development for commercial/multi-family buildings; access to revolving lines of credit for project development; and incentives to support the conversion from carbon-based fuels to zero or low-carbon fuels.