Coalition calls for fair and healthy buildings in Denver

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The Denver City Council Safety, Housing, Education and Homelessness Committee is considering a policy to increase the efficiency of large buildings by 30%, provide economic and technical support to move to 100% clean electrical appliances and put the city’s building stock on a trajectory to meet its 2040 climate targets by removing nearly 12 million tonnes of carbon over the next two decades. The policy is the consensus recommendation of a large and diverse group of stakeholders who have collaborated for more than six months on a bold response to the urgency of the climate crisis that also aligns with the imperatives of economic growth and Denver equity.

Illustration: Sam Chivers for the NRDC

The Energize Denver Task Force brought together affordable housing providers and advocates, labor leaders, building owners and managers, the conservation community and the utility industry in a process public committed to racial equity. Equity is an important priority because housing is an area where people, and especially people of color, are most affected by inequalities in our society. After eight months of hard work and collaboration, the group reached consensus on a policy that:

  • Set increasing energy efficiency targets for large buildings to reduce energy waste and ensure utility bills stay low for homeowners and tenants
  • Provides economic and technical assistance to make it easier and more affordable to switch from burning gas indoors for heating and hot water to using healthy equipment that can run on 100% clean electricity
  • Phases of requirements for fossil fuel furnaces and water heaters that fail or reach the end of their life to be replaced by clean electrical alternatives such as heat pumps, as these modern technologies make more and more sense economic

The Safety, Housing, Education and Homelessness Committee is currently reviewing the task force’s policy proposal. The committee must vote on the policy for it to be submitted for final approval by the entire city council.

Energetic efficiency

For decades, we’ve known that airtight walls and windows, weatherproof homes, and efficient appliances help control energy costs for everyone and are the cheapest emission reductions in the built environment. The task force’s policy puts Denver Buildings on track to fulfill that promise.

Under the proposed policy, the City would set efficiency targets that every larger building type is to meet by 2030 and milestones that every building is to meet by 2024 and 2027 to ensure that all stay on. the right way to achieve the ultimate goal of 30% reduction in the intensity of energy consumption. by 2030. Alternative compliance mechanisms and flexibility are built into the policy so that every building, regardless of its use and the socio-economic circumstances of its occupants, has the necessary resources, time and technical assistance. to succeed.

Transition to clean electricity for all devices in the building

Even as we clean our electricity grid with more and more renewable energy, carbon emissions and air pollution are still due to the burning of fossil fuels directly in buildings. We burn these fuels — methane, propane, and fuel oil — largely to heat premises in the winter and to heat water all year round. Fortunately, very efficient electrical alternatives are available to replace the majority of fossil fuel systems in use today.

Earlier this year, a city ​​of Denver analysis concluded that between half and two-thirds of the city’s buildings can already replace their space and water heating equipment with electrical systems at minimal additional equipment costs. The Task Force’s policy establishes financial and technical assistance to help building owners install these healthier, cleaner electrical systems as their old fossil-fueled equipment breaks down and needs to be replaced.

As more building owners gain experience with electrical systems, the cost of producing and installing equipment will continue to drop, and a higher percentage of buildings will be able to cost-effectively install the most climate-friendly technology.

The proposed policy then scales the requirements for all-electric technologies as they become increasingly affordable, starting with incentives, progressing through licensing and planning processes, and finally requiring that systems burning fossil fuels be replaced with clean electric alternatives when these systems make financial sense. for Denverites.

Racial and economic equity guarantees

The Task Force’s commitment to fairness in its process, its policy recommendations and the City’s implementation of the final policy resulted in several important guarantees in terms of affordability and racial justice.

The proposed policy includes the use of a social equity index to identify vulnerable neighborhoods and buildings that will need additional technical assistance, protections and more sustained economic support during the transition. Social equity indicators that should be included in the equity index include eviction rates, racial makeup, stress related to health insurance, lack of amenities like grocery stores and parks, and asthma rate.

The Social Equity Index will identify vulnerable neighborhoods where City staff need to raise awareness in all buildings to ensure they are aware of new resources and requirements. These buildings will also be eligible for expedited requests for additional financial and technical support to ensure that resources can go quickly to those who need them most. Other buildings will also be able to request these resources through a more thorough vetting process.

We need to eliminate carbon emissions from our homes and buildings in order to tackle the climate crisis. The policy of the Energize Denver task force is thorough, fair and ambitious – exactly the kind of action that is needed at this pivotal time.


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