The Washington Legislature can act now to improve the environment, grow good-paying jobs and save money. Those triple bottom-line benefits are all possible if the Clean Buildings for Washington Act (Second Substitute HB 1257) becomes law. That’s why our organizations — the NW Energy Coalition, the Northwest Energy Efficiency Council and the BlueGreen Alliance — enthusiastically support this effort.
In Washington, our buildings account for 27 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions. They are our fastest growing and second largest source of emissions — up 50 percent since 1990 — and commercial buildings make up approximately half of these emissions. Unlike cars, buildings last a long time and, without investment to address their energy use, they will continue to waste money and create unnecessary climate pollution.
Large, poorly insulated commercial buildings that rely on antiquated lighting and heating systems use inordinate amounts of electricity and natural gas. By making these buildings more efficient and reducing the amount of energy they consume, we can slash associated pollution and emissions and also reduce the likelihood that we’ll ever have to build another fossil fuel power plant again.
This legislation would take decisive action by renewing and investing in large, older commercial buildings of greater than 50,000 square feet. This is a small portion — about 6 percent — of the commercial buildings in Washington, but they make an outsized contribution to our emissions.
The Clean Buildings Act would reduce energy use in these buildings for a very low cost. That’s because no building owner would be required to make an energy efficiency upgrade — like more efficient lighting or more insulation — unless the investment pays for itself in future lower utility bills.
While payback happens over time, much of the investment will have to be made up front. So, the bill provides for $75 million in incentives to accelerate investments that will reduce energy waste and pollution. The result will be a major step toward meeting Washington’s carbon-reduction targets and investing in good-paying jobs in our communities.
These will be living-wage jobs across the state, up and down the skills ladder. Investing in building efficiency retrofits spurs work across the building trades: HVAC mechanics, electrical workers, insulation installers, sheet-metal workers, plumbers and building operators, among other trades. Building retrofits aren’t just a highly impactful, cost-effective way to reduce emissions — they also generate more jobs than comparable investments in other clean-energy sectors. And they support well-paying, family-sustaining Washington jobs that can’t be shipped out of state.
The bill contains other important provisions that will make our homes and buildings healthier and more comfortable and that innovate for the future. Natural-gas utilities, which provide space and water heat for many buildings, would undertake more energy efficiency programs and explore the use of renewable natural gas. Throughout the state, new buildings with parking would be wired for electric vehicle charging infrastructure. In combination, these provisions will bring under control a major source of greenhouse-gas emissions that has continued to grow.
Tell your state legislators to support the Clean Buildings for Washington Act because it will put in place innovative solutions to reduce climate pollution while creating good jobs across the state.