PROVIDENCE — Legislative leaders are moving toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings.
A set of bills for consideration by the General Assembly would establish a benchmark for emissions from large buildings (H7850) and expand the Green Building Act to establish leadership in energy and environmental design (LEED) construction standards for more state-owned and state-used buildings (H7278).
In New England towns like Providence, natural gas hookups for heating and cooking remain a more affordable option than heat pumps. Outside of the region’s metropolitan areas, fuel oil is the primary means of heating for most people. Full electrification of buildings, to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, would require replacing furnaces with heat pumps and gas stoves with induction furnaces.
“Buildings are the hardest sector to decarbonize, if we’re being honest,” said Kai Salem, policy coordinator for Alliance of Green Energy Consumers, while testifying in support of H7850 at a House Environment and Natural Resources Committee hearing last week. “But this bill is the first thing we can do this year to reduce emissions from the buildings sector.”
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Kislak, D-Providence, would require the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources (OER) to track energy use and greenhouse gas emissions — whether they come from the electricity, natural gas or fuel oil – residential and commercial buildings. above 20,000 square feet. Building owners would be required to file an annual report with the OER, which would be uploaded to the climate change website and entry into a public dashboard.
As proposed, the legislation would over time require buildings starting at 15,000 square feet to report their emissions as early as 2028. The bill also includes performance standards set by the OER that owners of large buildings would be required to meet all five years or pay another compliance payment. if they fail to reduce emissions. It also gives municipalities the option of having higher reduction standards.
Residential heating, commercial heating, and industrial heating and processes combined account for 35.4 percent of statewide emissions, according to data recently released by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. According to reporttotal state emissions increased by 8.2% between 2017 and 2018.
DEM’s analysis showed Rhode Island’s emissions were 1.8% higher than 1990 emission levels in 2018. Acting on the climate Legislation signed last year requires the state to reach 10% below 1990 emissions levels by 2020, and the state is not on track to achieve this.
State officials are also jostling for plans to cut emissions in other sectors. Last year’s belated death of the Transportation & Climate Initiative, which collapsed after Connecticut and Massachusetts refused to take it back to their respective governments, was Rhode Island’s only plan to mass control vehicle emissions and allocate money to green projects.
Bill H7278, sponsored by Rep. Terri Cortvriend, D-Portsmouth, would increase the number of state-owned or state-used buildings using LEED standards to reduce building emissions.
The legislation also expands the membership of the Green Building Advisory Committee to include other stakeholders. Under the bill, if passed, the Rhode Island Department of Administration (DOA) would be required to publish an annual report demonstrating energy savings and emissions reductions resulting from implementation. LEED standards.
The new $300 million school building bond, which is now before the Legislative Assembly, includes a number of incentives to encourage schools to go green. Public schools in Rhode Island are sadly outdated, with the average age of most school structures spanning decades. Many lack modern heating or cooling systems – if they have cooling systems – and fewer still are ready to reduce emissions from buildings.
“We need to get schools off of fossil fuels and instead generate their own electricity,” said Erica Hammond, lead organizer of Rhode Island Climate Jobsa coalition of environmental and labor groups.
The coalition is campaigning to decarbonise school buildings by calling for school improvement recommendations such as solar panels on roofs and above carports, upgrading to modern HVAC systems and switching to buses electrical.
The new bond as written would also give school districts a 5% rebate bonus if they spent more than $1 million on energy efficiency or renewable energy projects, with a 10% bonus. % if buildings are net zero after completion.
The requirement remains under review. Bills H7850 and H7278 were retained for further study.