UPDATE: On September 3, 2019, the San Luis Obispo City Council voted on the Clean Energy Choice Policy. After hours of public comment both for and against the reach code, it passed 4-1. Read The Tribune’s full coverage here.
We’ll give you the bad news first: today our world faces a climate crisis. The good news? San Luis Obispo could be a city that incentivizes environmental stewardship and innovation: a place where the environment and the economy both win.
On September 3rd, the council will be considering, discussing, debating and mulling a suite of policies intended to decarbonize new buildings – basically to make it so that new buildings have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
This package, called the Clean Energy Choice Policy, includes:
- Reach Code
- Carbon offset program
- In-lieu fees
- Community outreach and education program
- Incentives to encourage all-electric development
At this meeting, the council will be most focused on the Reach Code and the offset program. Let’s break each one down:
A Reach Code is when a city complies with the laws set out by the state, but also reaches for something a bit more ambitious. In this case, the proposed Reach Code will drive our city closer to carbon neutrality by 2035. The proposed Reach Code will require new buildings to be all-electric, or, to be much more energy efficient if they include natural gas.
The carbon offset program allows for new buildings to use natural gas only if they meet a carbon offset requirement and are ‘retrofit ready’. For every element energized by gas, new building owners must either retrofit a different building with electric energy, or pay an in-lieu fee.
While the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce supports the city’s ambitious goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2035, we believe that the Reach Code still needs a few changes to be more effective, clear and inspirational.
Our volunteer taskforce has been hustling to provide feedback on different drafts of the code since it was first released in late July. Utilizing their extensive experience in green building, land use planning, and architecture, we are advocating for the following changes:
- Public facilities should not be exempted. If private buildings make the effort to protect our environment, then the City should as well.
- The code requires that new buildings that opt for mixed fuel—a combination of electric and gas—pay a fee to offset the emissions. It is challenging to give feedback on the appropriateness of a fee or the corresponding program without a sense of how much money could be collected.
- Locally, we don’t have enough trained, certified experts to evaluate energy budgets. The City needs a plan for education and training so that the work, which is now mandatory, can be done locally and on time.
Finally, we need real incentives for those who opt to build all-electric. We can inspire and encourage the decarbonization of our buildings, rather than just making it more painful to do the bare minimum. We need incentives that address multiple barriers to carbon neutrality at the same time such as up-zoning, reduced minimum parking standards, reduced electricity rates through Monterey Bay Community Power and a meaningful, guaranteed fast-track through the permitting process.
Most importantly, we must ensure that this package of proposals stays tied together, and does not get broken up with different deadlines. Any part that is approved must be contingent on the approval of the entire package. We will not achieve our goals with mandates alone, we must create an environment where builders and designers are inspired to be part of the solution.