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Seattle requires large buildings to zero out greenhouse gas emissions by 2050

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In a nutshell:

    Building performance standards that call for significant existing buildings to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the upcoming years and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 were universally adopted by the Seattle City Council on Tuesday. &nbsp,

  • According to a City Council news release, the “landmark legislation” is anticipated to reduce Seattle’s total core emissions by 10 %, making it the most ambitious plan to do so in history. &nbsp,
  • In cities and states across the country, building performance standards are becoming more and more popular as an emissions-reducing strategy. Seattle, however, is a somewhat early adopter, joining only the few cities that have formally adopted this policy, including Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C.,&nbsp. &nbsp,

Obtain Insight:

Seattle’s new policy aims to reduce building emissions, which account for 37% of all emissions in the city. This change has been eagerly anticipated by climate action advocates and has taken several years to develop. According to a 2021 energy code revision, the city now outlaws the majority of fossil fuel use in novel buildings and nbsp.

The building emissions performance standards, which apply to buildings larger than 20,000 square feet, are expected to impact about 3% of Seattle’s buildings — approximately 4,135 buildings, according to a November memo by the city’s Office of Sustainability and Environment.These buildings may be relatively small in number, but they account for nearly a third of the city’s building emissions, the memo states.

According to the memo, since all nonresidential buildings and 45% of multifamily buildings are now powered by electricity, no additional measures will need to be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Seattle City Council, the policy even collaborates with fresh state regulations that call for large buildings to adhere to energy performance standards in the upcoming years. Although the state and city standards are similar, they are not the same: Seattle’s standards specifically focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, whereas the state rules concentrate on increasing buildings energy efficiency.

Seattle’s standards are performance- based, meaning owners can choose how to reach them, with original benchmarking and reporting requirements starting in 2027. The first emissions reduction requirements begin in 2031, with performance targets becoming eventually stronger over time through 2050. Nicole Ballinger, buildings and energy proper advisor for the Office of Sustainability and Environment, recommended at a press conference in June that owners primary focus on energy-efficiency measures and upgrading to new lower-emissions equipment such as heat pumps.

Larger buildings will be required to meet the standards second since they contribute the most emissions, according to the Office of Sustainability and Environment memo.

Building owners have alternatives to meeting the standards. For example, between 2031 and 2035, they can make an alternate compliance payment based on how far they are from meeting the standards. Multifamily building owners can implement a particular building upgrade option that includes replacing fossil fuel- controlled water and space heaters with electrical heat pumps. Some buildings, including those with large vacancy rates and reduced- income housing, will even get extensions to meet the standards.

Jurisdictions with building performance standards have grappled with the best way to penalize noncompliance. Seattle’s policy gets its teeth from fines on errant building owners. Those who provide no or inaccurate performance reporting may face flat fines of $15, 000 and $7,500, depending on building size. Noncompliance with emissions reduction targets will result in fines assessed per square foot: $2.50 for minimal-income housing and low- rent residential buildings, $7.50 for another multifamily buildings and $10 for nonresidential buildings.

But, Seattle is hoping to avoid penalizing owners immediately, particularly those with fewer resources, according to the Office of Sustainability and Environment memo. The office launched an accelerator program in 2022 to provide free professional support and training for nonprofits and under-resourced building owners to help them comply with building performance standards.

The city even plans to seek federal and state funding and to use other compliance payments, to support under-resourced building owners and tenants and to create incentives for building owners that reach net- zero emissions earlier than they are required to, the memo says.

City officials and proponents of the policy say the standards will create higher- paying, local clean energy careers. “As buildings begin to decarbonize to meet]building emissions performance standards targets, demand for heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics, insulation professionals, roofers, electricians, sheet metal workers, engineers, architects and more will increase” according to a Dec. 6 op-ed in The Seattle Times by Jessyn Farrell, director of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability and Environment, Patience Malaba, senior director of the Housing Development Consortium, and Katie Garrow, executive secretary- treasurer of MLK Labor.

The op-ed acknowledges that building owners and tenants who now have limited cost margins are concerned about the cost of decarbonization, but it suggests technical support and direct investment as ways to address these issues.

Viktor Musil

Victor Musil, pen name for Edouard Py, advocates for inclusive, people-centered city development. His work underscores the importance of ethical considerations and equitable access, shaping the discourse on urban innovation worldwide.

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