PennEnvironment released the "Building A Better America" study yesterday quantifying the benefits of strong building codes and other policies promoting energy efficiency. A press release summarizing the findings is available here, and the study can be downloaded here.
The median home in the United States is forty years old, and in Pennsylvania, even older. Because buildings last so long, the Building a Better America study notes that strong building and energy codes are critical to realizing the benefits of a more energy efficient building stock, like reduced energy use and bringing cost savings to companies and families. Enacting strong building and energy codes locks in energy savings for decades to come.
Likewise, weak or outdated codes create a legacy of inefficient and potentially unsafe buildings long into the future. This is the situation that Pennsylvania now faces.
In 2012, the International Code Council, the body that develops the model building and energy codes, issued updates to the building and energy codes that will make new buildings 15% more energy efficient than ones built to the current codes, and 30% more efficient than buildings built to the 2006 codes.
Until 2011, Pennsylvania’s building and energy codes were some of the most up-to-date in the nation. Last year, however, the Pennsylvania legislature made a series of changes to the way building and energy codes are adopted. As a result, in January, the committee that updates the codes voted to reject the 2012 updates to Pennsylvania’s codes. The committee also recommended that the Pennsylvania codes be updated every six years, instead of every three years as they are now.
If the committee’s recommendations are adopted, Pennsylvania will still be using the 2009 codes until at least 2018, and perhaps longer. As a result, the reductions in energy use and energy costs highlighted in the Building a Better America study will not be realized in Pennsylvania.
To make this real, look back. If Pennsylvania still used the 2006 codes, buildings built today would be 30% less energy efficient than ones built to the 2012 codes. As the study says, building energy efficiency is only increasing. If we are still building to 2009 codes in 2018, imagine the missed opportunity for energy and cost savings.
In addition to strong building and energy codes, the study also notes the importance of incentives to advance building efficiency. In 2008, the Pennsylvania legislature enacted Act 129, which, among other things, requires electric utilities to provide energy efficiency and conservation programs sufficient to achieve a 3% decrease in electricity use by 2013.
Most of the energy efficiency incentives in Pennsylvania are Act 129 programs offered by the utilities. However, after 2013, there are no additional set goals for energy reduction in Act 129. Rather, Act 129 requires that the Public Utility Commission set new goals, but only if the benefits exceed the costs. Right now, the Commission is in the process of evaluating the cost-effectiveness of the utilities’ energy efficiency programs, and determining whether to set new goals for energy reduction. The utilities are likely to meet the 3% target, so if no new goals are set, the utilities have no obligation to continue their energy efficiency programs after 2013.
The Building A Better America study proves that good policies, including strong building codes and incentive programs are critical for improving building energy efficiency and saving money.
Because of the imminent changes to Pennsylvania’s energy efficiency policies, to ensure that Pennsylvania realizes the financial and environmental benefits highlighted in the study, businesses, organizations and individuals need to speak out now to ensure that Pennsylvania’s policies stay strong, and provide support to Federal, state and local policymakers that advocate for energy efficient policies.