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A Landmark Year for Building Electrification

As the climate, health, and financial imperative to eliminate fossil fuels from buildings becomes more urgent, states and cities across the country are stepping up to tackle this challenging sector. This year was an exciting one for the effort to electrify buildings in the United States, from city building codes and appliance regulations all the way up to federal government commitments.

Here’s a look at some of the highlights:

States Passed Landmark Legislation

Colorado had a busy legislative session for building decarbonization, passing four bills to establish emissions targets for gas utilities, cut emissions from large commercial buildings, and accelerate the switch to efficient electric appliances.

Minnesota passed two new bipartisan laws: the ECO Act, which upgrades utility efficiency programs and opens the door for beneficial electrification, and the Natural Gas Innovation Act, which creates a pathway for gas and dual-fuel utilities to shift away from fossil fuels toward zero-carbon sources.

Illinois and Massachusetts each passed legislation this year that increased ambition for utility efficiency and electrification programs and that require their respective states to develop new stretch codes, which could include all-electric requirements.

More Cities and Jurisdictions Moved toward All-Electric New Construction

In California alone, 54 jurisdictions currently have building decarbonization ordinances in place.

In a much-anticipated decision, the California Energy Commission approved an energy code for new buildings that strongly incentivizes all-electric construction statewide starting in 2023.

Two proposals that will require heat pump space and water heating in new commercial buildings in Washington State have advanced to a public comment process, despite opposition from the fossil fuel industry. Also in Washington, city councils in both Seattle and Shoreline voted to eliminate most fossil fuel end uses from new commercial and multifamily buildings.

To work around a state law that limits cities’ ability to implement their own mandatory building codes, Brookline, MA, passed an innovative zoning bylaw that strongly encourages all-electric new construction. Multiple other municipalities in Massachusetts have also passed Home Rule Petitions, seeking leave from the state to eliminate gas from new buildings.

Louisville, Colorado, passed legislation with a requirement that all new residential construction to be all-electric or electric-ready.

Most recently, New York City joined the ranks of the more than 50 cities that have eliminated gas in new construction, becoming the largest US city to do so.

Cities Begin to Launch Plans to Decarbonize Existing Buildings

Ithaca, NY, initiated a major project to electrify and decarbonize 1,600 buildings over the next three years, with a focus on low-income households, and 4,000 more by the end of 2030.

Denver is one of the first cities to require emissions reductions from all commercial and multifamily buildings via energy efficiency, renewable energy, and building electrification by 2030 with interim benchmarks.

Eugene, OR’s city council voted to investigate how the city can both eliminate gas in new construction by 2023 and eventually electrify all existing buildings.

Utility Regulation Is Shifting in Leading States

Nine state and district utility commissions currently have open proceedings designed to investigate, address, or implement the “future of gas” in line with state climate goals. These include California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Washington, and Washington, D.C. Some state regulators are specifically beginning to reexamine policies that incentivize the expansion of the gas system:

  • Commission staff in California proposed eliminating gas line extension allowances in order to further incentivize all-electric new construction.
  • Colorado commissioners proposed changing line extension policies so that ratepayers do not bear the infrastructure cost of extending the gas system to new customers.
  • Washington commissioners directed the state’s gas utilities to reduce their allowances by half, with the potential to eliminate them entirely pending examination in a broader proceeding.
State Utilities Support Electrification through Energy Efficiency Programs

Illinois and Minnesota both explicitly allowed energy efficiency funds to be spent on efficient electric technology, unlocking significant additional funding for heat pump deployment.

Pepco—Washington, D.C.’s electric utility—highlighted significant plans for electrification in its energy efficiency programs, and released a study showing that the grid impacts of electrification will fall well within a manageable range.

Due to the inclusion of the cost of carbon in cost-effectiveness tests, Massachusetts’ energy efficiency program proposed over $800 million in funding for building electrification in its next three-year plan.

Air Quality and Appliance Regulators Begin to Take Gas Seriously

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District proposed the nation’s first zero-pollution standard for appliances, which would phase out the sale of polluting fossil-fuel appliances between now and 2027–2031.

On a national level, the US EPA announced that gas appliances will no longer make the cut for Energy Star’s “most efficient” rating.

Climate Plans Advanced Strong Recommendations on Building Decarbonization

The Maryland Commission on Climate Change recommended the implementation of all-electric new construction, with further recommendations to phase out fossil fuel appliances and prioritize programs for low-income households.

The New York Climate Action Council recommended “adopting regulations that phase out fossil fuel use in buildings, requiring energy-efficient electric heating and cooling, electric hot water heating, and electric appliances.” The panel also recommended adopting all-electric building codes for new construction by 2025, as well as the adoption of zero-emissions appliance standards in the 2030s.

Colorado’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap envisions dramatic reductions in fossil gas use in buildings, including the electrification of over 90 percent of space heating and nearly 100 percent of water heating in residential and commercial buildings by 2050.

In the Midwest, working groups in Michigan and Wisconsin are both developing state plans to follow through on their respective state’s climate commitments, with publication expected early next year.

States Invest in and Implement Equitable Building Electrification

Maine is on track to hit the state’s “100,000 heat pumps by 2025” target, deploying over 28,000 heat pumps this year, more than double last year’s number. Maine has even more ambitious targets for 2030, including ramping up installations in low-income households piloting whole home heating electrification retrofits.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has allocated $59 million for the Clean Green Schools initiative to decarbonize and improve air quality for schools in disadvantaged communities in the state.

Connecticut has committed a total of $14 million for a whole-home energy retrofit program targeted at low-income residents, aiming to reduce energy burdens while decarbonizing Connecticut homes.

A Busy Year in the Building Electrification World!

Federal legislation and commitments put forward this year will boost city- and state-level action on electrification next year. Furthering his earlier commitment to a whole-of-government approach to building decarbonization, President Biden’s recent executive order targets comprehensive emissions reductions across the federal government, including a target to eliminate emissions from government buildings by 2045.

At COP26, the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction launched the Clean Heat Forum, an international initiative to decarbonize heating in buildings.

These developments demonstrate significant progress across a range of policy and regulatory avenues, and we can’t wait to see what city, state, and federal actors achieve in 2022!

Note: This post has been corrected. It originally claimed that Ithaca, NY, would decarbonize 1,000 buildings in the next three years.