Policy: AB 758

President Obama got a lot of press last month when he released his new plan to combat climate change.  The plan includes a slew of infrastructure and green jobs initiatives, including an expanded commitment to making our existing buildings more energy efficient.  While his plan made national news, California’s increased commitment this month to energy efficiency in existing buildings has barely registered on Twitter. Yet California policymakers are aggressively pursuing a plan that, if implemented correctly, will arguably do more to save consumers money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create green jobs, and improve our health than any other state in the country. California’s current effort stems from a law adopted in 2009.  Authored by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner and sponsored by Global Green USA, the Comprehensive Energy Efficiency Program for Existing Buildings requires the California Energy Commission (CEC) to develop and implement a program to achieve greater energy savings in all existing buildings in California.

Buildings represent the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California, and the largest source nationwide.  Much of California’s energy efficiency policy to date has focused on new construction; as a result, we’ve been able to ensure that the buildings built today are more energy-efficient than at any time in the past. However, very little has been done to make our existing buildings more efficient. Given that 55 percent of California’s housing stock and more than 40 percent of California’s nonresidential building stock were built before any building energy efficiency standards were put into place, retrofitting all our existing buildings could have a serious impact.

Progress has been slow, but the CEC released the first version of their Action Plan last month providing a roadmap for implementation.  The Draft Action Plan contains some innovative ideas, such as a push to begin evaluating and including energy efficiency in home appraisals, and a suggestion to create a team of stakeholders (including non-profits) to help oversee and guide the program.  However more aggressive action is needed to ensure that this program delivers the energy savings and greenhouse gas reductions that the state needs. This is especially crucial because we cannot meet the state’s global warming targets without achieving deep savings from the existing building sector.

Global Green participated in the three workshops hosted by the CEC to garner public feedback on the plan. We urged the CEC to ensure that the plan included quantitative goals and transparent timelines; that marketing, outreach and education were major tenets of the plan; that the CEC coordinate with every utility in the state, not just a select few; that they create program components that work for lower-income Californians, and much more.  We organized stakeholders across the state to attend the workshops, and to submit written testimony to the CEC with their recommendations in order to ensure that the CEC creates a program that truly reflects a broad spectrum of needs.  We also coordinated comments between similar stakeholders to ensure that the CEC heard a clear, concise message whenever possible.

There’s still more work to do before California’s program is off the ground, but we’re on the right track. Global Green will continue participating and organizing other stakeholders who want to help enact the most robust program possible and we’ll keep blogging about our progress. Mr. President, we hope you are watching California and using our lessons to help guide progress at the national level.