California’s Quest for Gold in Zero Emissions Buildings

The 2018 Winter Olympics have just closed, but California’s pursuit of clean energy is continuing unabated. After initiating the energy efficiency, the solar, and the electric car revolutions over the past two decades, several state lawmakers are looking to tackle the next frontier in clean energy: slashing the climate and air pollution from the use of fossil fuels in buildings.

Image courtesy of Wakeland Housing and Development Corporation

Burning fossil fuels in buildings, primarily in gas-fired furnaces and water heaters, is responsible for nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions in California’s building sector, as I and my co-author from the Association for Energy Affordability (AEA) noted in an opinion piece published in Capitol Weekly today. And that’s before accounting for pervasive leaks throughout the gas supply chain that release large quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas that is far more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

These greenhouse gases are warming our planet. That’s why when snowboarders Chloe Kim and Shaun White return home to California after dazzling on the halfpipe to win gold in Korea, there won’t be much snow to greet them. The snowpack in the Sierra Mountains is 80 percent below normal, an ominous harbinger of more drought for a state already reeling from record wildfires, and a stark reminder that the most important challenge of all—the race against climate change—remains to be won.

Andrew Brooks, director of AEA’s West Coast Operations, and I also noted in today’s op-ed that burning natural gas in our homes is a major source of indoor and outdoor air pollution affecting our health, particularly in the Central Valley and the LA Basin that have some of the worst air quality in the country.

We need to address fossil fuel use for space and water heating

While California is leading the race to clean electricity, it has paid far less attention to the direct emissions from the use of fossil fuels to heat our buildings and our hot water. A group of state lawmakers is aiming to change that: Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), and several co-authors have introduced bills that propose to realign the state’s building energy policies with its clean energy goals.

Assembly Bill 3001 (Bonta) proposes to update well-intended but outdated policies that have historically favored the use of fossil natural gas as the fuel of choice to heat our buildings and hot water. The bill would unlock the use of modern clean heating technologies in our buildings, paving the way for deep cuts in climate and air pollution from the building sector. Assembly Bill 3232 (Friedman) aims to cut climate pollution from the building sector in half by 2030, and to require all new buildings to zero out their carbon emissions by 2030, meaning they would generate enough solar power to offset their annual energy-related emissions.

Champions like Assemblymembers Bonta and Friedman are carrying the torch for the next leg in the Golden State’s race to stabilize the climate and provide pollution relief to millions of Californians. We hope the Legislature will support these bills, which will help ensure there’s cleaner air for all of us to breathe, as well as—snow that future Olympians and everyone else can enjoy.

About the Authors

Pierre Delforge

Senior Scientist, Building Decarbonization, Climate & Clean Energy Program

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.