Code Funding Could Be a Big Boost for Jurisdictions
Cities and states looking to update their building energy codes will soon be eligible to apply for competitive funding from the Department of Energy.
Cities and states looking to update their building energy codes will soon be eligible to apply for competitive funding, provided via the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently released a notice of intent regarding the $225 million allocated to the energy codes program. Because the formal application process opens in the fall, now is the time for jurisdictions to start planning their projects.
This notice of intent (NOI) follows the National Initiative to Advance Building Codes announced by the White House in June, and uses funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for a Resilient and Efficient Codes Implementation (RECI) program. Building energy codes are a key tool to decarbonize new buildings, by improving energy efficiency and ensuring they are powered with clean, renewable electricity. Building codes also save energy and money for consumers – yet resources to adopt and enforce the latest codes are often scarce at the state or local level. This funding could be a big help.
The federal government has limited power over the development or adoption of codes. Codes are developed through national consensus processes, then adopted at the state or local level. The funding specified in the BIL will be administered by DOE to states or partnerships of groups, with a few distinct areas of interest. When crafting an application, it may be useful to keep in mind some of the priority areas that DOE has identified in the NOI.
Equity, Energy, and Environmental Justice
Under the Biden-Harris Administration’s Justice40 initiative, 40 percent of benefits from certain federal investments should flow to disadvantaged communities. Modern building codes and building performance standards can help meet these objectives, both by improving the physical infrastructure of the places where people live, and by helping to create stable job opportunities. Projects could include workforce development focused specifically on underserved populations, plans to implement and improve building performance standards in existing buildings, code compliance of new multifamily affordable housing, or other activities that help to reduce the energy burden of low- and moderate-income populations.
DOE has indicated that it will give priority to projects that include partnerships, and is providing a regularly updated teaming list on its website. Although funding does not need to go to a state agency, the law specifies that each project must include a relevant state agency, like a state building code agency or state energy office. However, the state agency does not need to be the prime applicant or the prime grant recipient, and funding does not need to go to the state agency. Similarly, local governments do not need to apply jointly with the state in which they reside, but “must apply as part of a partnership with a state,” opening the door to regional or topic-based partnerships. For example, a group of local governments interested in adopting an all-electric code could form a coalition in partnership with a supportive state agency and apply for funding together. Partnerships could also help grantees leverage other funding sources beyond the BIL, such as utility funding or Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant funding, which is another key consideration for DOE.
State and Local Code Adoption
Adoption of updated codes is one of the key activities to be funded under the BIL. DOE interprets an “updated building code” as any more recent code edition than what is currently in place in the jurisdiction. However, given that this is a competitive award program, and given that DOE has to consider the impact of a proposal, DOE anticipates that projects oriented around the latest energy codes (or better!) will demonstrate the greatest overall impact.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law requires DOE to consider “resilience and peak load reduction” when evaluating applications, and specifically identifies “improving resilience, health, and safety” as an eligible topic for energy code training. The theme of resilience appears in each of the areas of interest in the NOI, and DOE includes resilience as a potential metric or focus for the impact statements that will be required for the grant application.
Constructing buildings to be more efficient than ever before requires a skilled workforce. The construction industry is experiencing labor shortages and high turnover, and as we look to the future, there will be an increasing need for a skilled and diverse workforce. Strong workforce development programs could also help to serve historically underserved communities, by creating training programs in partnership with community colleges, Minority-Serving Institutions, or similar organizations. Funding could be used to train both new workers and existing workers, fund apprenticeship programs for hands-on experiences, or other workforce-related support services.
Implementation and Compliance
A jurisdiction can have the best energy code in the world on its books – but unless that code is implemented and adequately enforced, it will not generate the expected energy or emissions savings. Implementation and enforcement work hand-in-hand with workforce development, as a skilled workforce will result in better compliance rates. Jurisdictions could use funds for activities like energy code compliance, quantification of impacts, coordination with utility programs, compliance software, or other innovative ideas related to compliance or enforcement.
Jurisdictions may use this funding to work on innovative ways to address the energy use and carbon emissions of both new and existing buildings. When it comes to projects that directly save energy and money, this could include adopting stretch codes or decarbonization codes, or adopting and implementing building performance standards. Funding could also be used for some of the indirect projects that support these objectives, like energy or carbon savings analysis, or advanced permitting and compliance processes. Projects can support high-performance buildings that improve resilience, health, safety, water savings, and other environmental impacts, as well as other key areas like equity and workforce.
Within each of these areas of interest, DOE is looking to fund projects that support updated building energy codes, which will save additional energy and money. This is an incredible opportunity for local governments to access funding to support better new buildings – and it’s a great time to start planning transformative projects.