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The CLEAN Future Act Part 2: The Building Sector

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Last week, I presented some background information about the Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s Future Act (CLEAN) and how it can help the power sector of the United States’ infrastructure. This week, I’m going to discuss the buildings section from the bill.

The purpose of the CLEAN Future Act is to set the U.S. on a path towards a 100% carbon-free economy by 2050. The bill seeks to invest in 4 sectors of infrastructures: power, buildings, transportation, and industry.

You’re probably asking yourself, why are buildings included in a bill designated for combating climate change?

Did you know that buildings account for nearly 40% of all CO₂ emissions and energy in the U.S. each year?

Not only that, but buildings also contribute 36% of global energy use and 39% of CO emissions each year. (archive.curbed.com) This is attributed to how most buildings (schools, apartment buildings, hotels, skyscrapers, just to name a few) demand a large quantity of energy for their lights to stay on. Even though solar panels and renewable energy are becoming more common in building infrastructure, mass amounts of energy are still being wasted with the amount of “plug load” coming from modern appliances like office supplies that stay plugged in all night taking in unneeded electricity.

If the U.S. wants to honor their commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, then steps will need to be taken to fix this serious issue.

Every 3 years, the International Code Council (ICC) convenes to update the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). This is done by the ICC calling forward building scientists, builders, energy efficiency advocates, and government officials to come to an agreement on what needs to be fixed. They believe that the 2021 IECC will have buildings be able to function with 14% more efficiency when it comes to reducing emissions. This is a big step forward as the last 2 IECC’s (2018 and 2015) weren’t very helpful in combating CO emissions.

However, this could’ve been an even greater victory if the ICC didn’t make sketchy deals with the National Association of Homebuilders and the Leading Builders of America.

If they weren’t in the picture, then the IECC for this year would’ve seen accepted proposals for electric vehicle chargers in homes along with homes to be wired for electric appliances and higher-efficiency gas furnaces and water heaters. Another example of how money and politics shouldn’t mix. But at least we’re inching closer towards a cleaner infrastructure.

It seems that the building article in the CLEAN Future Act was inspired by this coalition.

What does the CLEAN Future Act aim to fix?

Photo credit: SevenStorm JUHAZIMRUS

Because the ICC and other coalitions aren’t implementing enough motion toward clean energy, this bill aims to improve the efficiency of existing buildings and those that are currently being constructed. The authors of CLEAN want to establish a new series of building energy codes to ensure that “zero-energy-ready” buildings be operational by 2030. The authors believe that investments in energy and material efficiency along with electrification.

The CFA (CLEAN Future Act) targets state and local public facilities with nearly $40 billion of investment over 10 years to improve resilience, increase energy efficiency, expand use of renewable energy and enhance grid integration. This includes $1.5 billion for tribal governments, $1 billion for public schools and $100 million for nonprofits.

Also, the CFA makes a large push to retrofit the nearly 140 million existing residential buildings. It establishes a new home energy savings rebate program that would provide $1,500 to property owners for the installation of insulation, air sealing and replacement of a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system. This rebate could be as much as $4,000 if upgrades achieve a 40% reduction in energy consumption, which would cut household utility bills while reducing emissions.

However, this rebate program is limited only to appliances that improve the thermal efficiency of the home, excluding important equipment like EV chargers. Electrification of all appliances and vehicles, when combined with clean electricity generation, is the best way to achieve net-zero emissions.”

(wri.org/insights/unpacking-us-clean-future-act)

The last measure that the CFA looks to fix is incorporating additional measures to reduce building emissions, most notably reauthorizing the Weatherization Assistance Program, which is a program offered by the Department of Energy to reduce energy costs for low-income households “by increasing the energy efficiency of their homes, while ensuring their health and safety.” (energy.gov/eere/wap/weatherization-assistance-program) This will help those who normally wouldn’t be able to afford installing renewable energy appliances in their households.

Is this realistic?

For me, I’m always skeptical when it comes to the federal government, because they love crude oil. However, because Joe Biden is a staunch supporter of renewable energy, and the U.S. has seen firsthand how profitable clean energy is, I feel that it’ll end up being a series of baby steps until 2050. Even as I write this out that year feels like it’ll come next week, and we’ll be in the same spot as we were before. We can only hope that there are those who truly want to see the world improve and support the CFA. The main problem is, the fossil fuel industry has a lot more money in their pockets than the renewable energy industry does. But, with outside pressure from other countries to fully participate in the Paris Climate Agreement while dealing with corporations that are more willing to move towards net-zero, such as car companies, then there may be hope yet.

Next week, I’ll be discussing the transportation section of the CFA and the ramifications behind it!

If you want to learn more about the CLEAN Future Act, and how buildings can help reduce CO2 emissions, check out these links below.

https://www.circleofblue.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/CLEAN-Future-Act-Memo_01.08.20_FINAL.pdf

https://www.eesi.org/topics/built-infrastructure/description#:~:text=About%2030%20percent%20of%20the,vital%20reductions%20in%20energy%20consumption.

https://www.eesi.org/articles/view/building-energy-codes-leap-forward-on-efficiency-but-stumble-on-electrification

https://archive.curbed.com/2019/9/19/20874234/buildings-carbon-emissions-climate-change

https://www.wri.org/insights/unpacking-us-clean-future-act

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