Governor Newsom Sets Bold Clean Buildings Goals

To make good on these goals, the California legislature and the governor need to fund equitable building decarbonization programs in the state budget decisions they’re working on.

Buildings in North Beach, San Francisco
Credit: Photo by Kimson Doan on Unsplash

Governor Newsom’s new targets will accelerate the deployment of super-efficient heat pumps, helping to keep people safe from extreme heat while cutting their energy bills and eliminating fossil fuel pollution. To achieve these goals, the California legislature and the governor need to fund equitable building decarbonization programs in the State budget in August. 

Newsom set a direction toward clean and efficient fossil-fuel-free buildings on Friday by signing a letter to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) that sets much-needed clean energy targets for buildings.  

It mobilizes the state to achieve the following goals:  

  • 6 million heat pumps in buildings by 2030, as recommended by the California Energy Commission,
  • 3 million climate-ready and climate-friendly homes by 2030,  
  • 7 million climate-ready and climate-friendly homes by 2035 (half of all CA homes!), 
  • And with at least 50 percent of funding to meet these goals directed toward disadvantaged communities.     

Governor Newsom signs this letter against the backdrop of extreme heat fueled by the climate crisis ripping across the Northern Hemisphere. In recent weeks, more than 100 million people lived under heat warnings and advisories in the U.S.  Across the Atlantic, roads in Western Europe are buckling under record-breaking extreme heat conditions. And in China, extreme heat necessitated industrial power shut-offs.

On a global scale, the current heatwave is yet another harbinger of the costs of continued climate inaction. As climate activist Vanessa Nakate aptly notes, residents of the Global South already experience some of the worst impacts of climate change in the form of water scarcity, degraded cropland, and more yet to less global media coverage. 

This letter also comes on the heels of another missed opportunity to tackle climate change at the federal level in the U.S. Congress.

And it follows years of strategic organizing by California equitable building decarbonization advocates, who have long recognized that transitioning to electric appliances powered by clean electricity is the most affordable and promising pathway to eliminating carbon and toxic pollution from our homes and businesses.  

Wind turbine in green field
Credit: Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

What will clean buildings targets do for Californians? 

The Governor's letter – which directs the state administration to work toward transitioning California to clean, highly-efficient electric appliances – is a win for climate protection, for utility customers, and for environmental justice communities on the frontlines of climate change. 

Installing super-efficient electric appliances, including electric heat pumps, represents the most affordable path to decarbonizing California’s buildings. Widespread heat pump adoption – when paired with rate reform, tenant protection, and other measures to reduce energy burden – can reduce electric utility bills, and the new targets send a clear signal of the need to halt unnecessary, costly gas infrastructure investments. 

Installing electric appliances will also improve air quality in and outside of homes, particularly improving health outcomes for disadvantaged communities that also experience high levels of pollution from traffic, industry, and other sources in their neighborhoods. 

And achieving the new goals will help Californians fend off extreme heat by accelerating the deployment of super-efficient heat pumps that keep you cool in summer and warm in winter. 

Heat pump graphic by NRDC
Credit: Jessica Russo, NRDC

Time to invest in communities

Now is the time for California to get to work making today’s goals into tomorrow’s reality. 

California was instrumental in getting rooftop solar panels and electric vehicles to mass market. It can do it again with clean and renewable heating, cooling, and hot water. To do this, the California Legislature and the Governor need to fund equitable building decarbonization programs in the final budget decisions due to be adopted in August.

The influx of State Budget money dedicated to building electrification – including replenishing the funding pool for the TECH Program – can play a crucial role in furthering the goals adopted today. California has done this before: it invested billions in rooftop solar development through the California Solar Initiative. This brought down the cost of solar panels, making them more affordable and accessible for all. A similar investment is needed to transform California’s buildings to use clean and affordable energy sources.

Critically, equitable building decarbonization must also include policies such as rate reform, energy efficiency retrofits, tenant protections, and other safeguards to ensure low-income households (who can least afford soaring fossil fuel costs) benefit the most from the transition. The Legislature and state agencies must escalate their ongoing efforts to fund and implement these policies.

Sweltering heat and skyrocketing fossil fuel bills around the globe are a poignant reminder – there is no time to waste and much to gain by equitably, swiftly transitioning to the clean energy future. Governor Newsom’s new targets are an important step in that direction: providing a vision of what is possible if we get to work today.  

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