Gov. Brown Signs Low-Carbon Buildings Bill AB 3232 into Law

Governor Jerry Brown today signed into law a bill that sets the stage for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from California’s residential and commercial buildings by 40 percent by 2030 below 1990 levels.

Photo Credit: City Ventures

This is significant because California’s buildings are responsible for a quarter of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, when including emissions from fossil fuels burned onsite such as gas and propane in furnaces and water heaters, and from power plants that produce the electricity used in buildings.

California is making great strides in transitioning to a clean electricity supply, such as with the recently signed SB 100 law that requires 60 percent of California’s electricity to be generated from renewable resources by 2030 and for it to be 100 percent carbon-free by 2045. However, the state still lacks a comparable strategy to reduce emissions from heating fuels in buildings, which will be essential to achieve Governor Brown’s new state goal of carbon neutrality by 2045.

Assembly Bill 3232 by California Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) addresses this gap by requiring the California Energy Commission (CEC) to assess, by January 1, 2021, how to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the state’s building stock by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, in line with the state’s overall GHG emissions limit (SB 32 by Senator Pavley, 2016). In other words, the CEC is tasked to identify policies that will enable the building sector to do its fair share in California’s effort to reduce emissions.

This reduction in emissions from the building sector is ambitious but feasible. It will require constructing all new buildings to be very low-emissions and retrofitting many older existing homes and business facilities. Fortunately, there are many technologies and measures that can help do this cost-effectively, starting with space and water heating—the two largest sources of building emissions.

Replacing old furnaces, water heaters, and air conditioners with clean, efficient and smart heating technologies like super-efficient electric heat pumps with smart thermostats--combined with energy efficiency upgrades like better windows and insulation, and other clean energy technologies like energy storage--can slash emissions, cut occupants’ utility bills, improve indoor air quality, and reduce smog and particulate air pollution.

Doing it Right

Low-emissions building technologies have relatively low market share in California today because customers and contractors are often not familiar with them, and they may cost more upfront like many new technologies. Policies are needed to deploy these technologies and practices at the pace and scale required to achieve a 40 percent reduction by 2030, and in a way that maximizes environmental, customer, and electric grid benefits.

This is what AB 3232 sets out to do: ensure that California manages the transition to low-emissions buildings in a way that helps Californians struggling with housing affordability and air pollution.

What’s Next?

Over the next two years, the California Energy Commission will engage stakeholders—including utilities, building professionals, equipment manufacturers, and the public—to determine how best to achieve these goals, and will report to the legislature by January 1, 2021.

But much is already happening in the meantime:

The Governor also signed another related bill, Senate Bill 1477, which will provide $50 million in annual incentives through 2023 to jump-start market development for new low-emissions buildings and clean heating technology in the state.

The updated building energy efficiency standards (or “building code”) that go into effect in January 2020 will make it much easier to use high-efficiency electric heat pump technology in new buildings.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is considering how to revise outdated regulations that currently make it difficult for investor-owned utilities to provide incentives for clean heating equipment. A decision is expected by the end of this year.

And in another proceeding, the CPUC is also considering how to give disadvantaged communities in the San Joaquin Valley access to clean and affordable heat.

Thank you, Governor Brown, Assemblymember Friedman, and Senator Stern, for your leadership on climate and clean energy. AB 3232 and SB 1477 are charting the path for lower-emissions, more affordable, and healthier buildings for all Californians.

About the Authors

Pierre Delforge

Senior Policy Advocate, Center for Energy Efficiency Standards, Climate & Clean Energy Program

Merrian Borgeson

Senior Scientist, Power Sector, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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