CB considering major climate mandates with new building code adoption

Does town have the political will to go 100% electric with new construction?

[  by Mark Reaman  ]

Crested Butte town staff is asking the town council how far to go with new building standards when it comes to green building. One question presented to the council during a Monday, June 20 work session was whether Crested Butte should be the first municipality in Colorado to essentially require all new commercial and residential construction be almost totally electric. Building electrification is a primary strategy in the Crested Butte Climate Action Plan (CAP) with the goal to use an increasingly renewable energy grid.

Council did not provide specific guidance on that issue and is looking at a number of so-called “above building code standards” in energy use requirements for the upcoming adoption of the new 2021 building code. The idea is to use the new standards as part of a specific strategy regarding energy efficiency, promoting onsite renewable energy, and considering a total electrification policy to meet the town’s Climate Action Plan goals. Other additional standards could be to mandate immediate solar energy production on commercial buildings larger than 5,000 square feet and require “solar-ready” construction for buildings under 5,000 square feet. 

Insulation and sustainable window requirements would be increased as would the regulation for low energy use light bulbs. Inclusion of Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations would be a part of most any construction project and builders could be required to provide construction site recycling.

The new codes are expected to be approved by council later this summer and go into effect the first of the year.

An advisory committee has been meeting to discuss and analyze ideas to integrate the town’s CAP with the new building code. Another idea is to review building codes every three years instead of every six as is currently done. The hope is that other regional governments like the town of Mt. Crested Butte and Gunnison County will join in that same building code review schedule.

In terms of electrification,  the town staff has provided two policy considerations for the council, with the first being requiring new construction to utilize electricity for heating, hot water heating and appliances. However, if council agrees to go all electric for commercial buildings, the staff is suggesting an exception be made for commercial kitchens. If council is not ready to mandate all-electric buildings, an alternative option considers requiring that all new buildings are built to be electric ready, meaning there is an electric circuit, panel space and location for condensate drainage for the associated boiler or appliance.

Additionally, in this alternative, if a new building included natural gas, that would trigger a REMP (Renewable Energy Mitigation Program) off-set through on-site renewable energy or an equivalent payment in lieu that is calculated based on the carbon equivalent of the natural gas energy usage. In either policy option, staff recommends that all major remodels become electric ready.

“The town’s goal is to be at net zero in terms of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030,” Crested Butte long-range planner Mel Yemma reminded the council. “We understand it will take several stages to reach the short-term and long-term CAP goals. The goal is to decarbonize the grid and electrify buildings so they can directly utilize a green, sustainable grid. The question to the council is whether to require all new construction to be electric.”

When outlining the pros and cons of such a requirement, the staff acknowledged that being the first municipality in the state to have such a mandate could be considered both a pro and a con. 

“We understand that such change is hard and the public perception for such action could be difficult,” said Yemma who acknowledged in a PowerPoint presentation that some homeowners would be concerned about back-up power and have a preference for gas stoves. 

Mayor Ian Billick asked if backup generators would be allowed under the staff proposal. He noted there have been electrical outages in the past and with the proliferation of wildfires in the West, the electric grid could be at risk more often. Staff didn’t directly answer the question but said they would further research that question. Additionally, approved wood burning stoves might be allowed to be used for backup purposes in residential buildings.

Staff admitted that installation of electric appliances and heating could be more expensive up-front than natural gas, but savings could then be significant over time given product cost. The town’s Sixth and Butte and Paradise Park housing project is planning to be all electric and staff will work with the builder to show cost comparisons of all electric versus mixed fuel to the council.

Councilmember Mallika Magner wanted specific cost figures with the alternatives and staff said they would provide that but estimated the cost of improved windows could be 15-20% higher and insulation costs might be as much as 30% more. “What will the cost of these new regulations be on the homeowners and builders?” she asked. “I want a handle on the costs and the REMP fees.”

Councilmember Jason MacMillan is on the advisory committee and said the meetings have been productive. “I think we, the town, have the political will to be more aggressive with the above-building code standards,” he said.

A public meeting on the proposals was held at the end of May and public comment was taken until June 10. Just one letter was received and that was from the Gunnison Valley Climate Crisis Coalition that wrote in support of the proposals, including the mandate of making new construction and major remodels all electric.

There was not enough time for the staff to present all the information it was suggesting at the one-hour work session. The staff plans to bring a proposed ordinance with the new building codes suggestions to the council at the July 18 meeting. A public hearing would be held at the first meeting in August when the council would vote on the new building code requirements.

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