Commentary: Climate change fight starts at home and office

We can reduce carbon emissions by improving buildings’ energy efficiency. And we’ll save money, too.

By Jeanine SanClemente

For The Herald

Snohomish County citizens are joining the charge to clean up how we generate electricity: more renewables, fewer fossil fuels. Meanwhile, few of us are paying attention to how we use that energy. If we’re really interested in reducing greenhouse gas emissions that’s where we have to look.

Buildings — houses, stores, offices, and others — produce 27 percent of Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions, and with the population growth the state is experiencing, these emissions are growing. This air pollution is linked to increased asthma and other breathing problems that kill 4 million to 7 million people every year and cost governments a little less than $23 billion each year.

In short, we can’t hit any of our climate goals unless we make our buildings a lot more energy efficient than they are today. That’s why Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed HB 1257 and SB 5293, The Clean Buildings for Washington Act is a central component of Inslee’s climate package in the current legislative session.

The act provides incentives and establishes energy efficiency standards for large commercial buildings. It makes sure large new buildings will provide charging capabilities for electronic vehicles. It empowers local governments to voluntarily adopt energy codes (“stretch codes”) that exceed the state’s minimum requirements for houses and other residential structures. And it establishes performance requirements for natural gas companies and encourages them to replace natural gas from fossil fuels with renewable natural gas from farms and landfills.

Not only will these measures significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions, they’ll do it affordably. A mounting body of evidence shows that, for new houses, energy efficient construction adds only about 1 precent to a home’s cost. And, owners save so much on monthly electric and natural gas bills that the added cost is recovered in just five years. After that, homeowners continue to save hundreds of dollars every year.

For existing homes, many energy efficiency retrofits — light bulb replacement, improved insulation, more efficient appliances, and others — pay out quickly too. Plus they provide important non-energy benefits. They’re more comfortable and the folks who live in them don’t suffer as many asthma attacks and colds.

These improvements are so great they’ve actually produced measurable savings in health care costs and reduced rates of absenteeism at school and work.

Commercial building owners have even larger opportunities for energy and cost savings. To help them, the act creates financial incentives, including funding assistance, which can be acquired through local utilities.

Finally, energy efficiency is great for jobs and Washington’s economy. About 62,000 Washingtonians have jobs related to energy efficiency in fields like heating, cooling, and air conditioning; home weatherization; manufacturing; and construction.

The jobs range from entry level to highly skilled and they’re located throughout the state, most of them in small businesses. So, by supporting energy efficient buildings, we’re also supporting local workers and companies.

Jeanine SanClemente is a member of Mothers Out Front, an organization addressing climate change; and the Snohomish County Climate Alliance, a coalition of climate change groups. She lives in Maltby.

Find out more

To find out more and to help pass the act, email Amy Wheeless at NW Energy Coalition at amy@nwenergy.org.

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