Senate approves Building Decarbonization Act

 

STATE HOUSE — The Senate today approved legislation from Sen. Meghan Kallman to measure and benchmark the emissions of Rhode Island’s buildings.

The bill (2024-S 2952A) now heads to the House, where Rep. Rebecca Kislak (D-Dist. 4, Providence) has introduced similar legislation (2024-H 7617).

“Rhode Island has some of the most robust climate goals in the country,” said Senator Kallman (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, Providence). “However, in order to meet our mandates for emissions reductions, we need to be dealing with our buildings. We also have older building stock, and we need to be both assessing how we decarbonize existing buildings, and how we make new buildings more efficient.”

This legislation creates standards and requirements for benchmarking the energy use and emissions of Rhode Island’s large buildings, starting with those that are publicly-owned before applying these requirements to privately-owned buildings. The Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council would use the data collected from this benchmarking to subsequently develop standards to reduce these emissions in alignment with the mandates of the Act on Climate (2021-S 0078A2021-H 5445A).

The act would also require all new construction be electric-ready, starting Jan. 30, 2025. Requiring electric-ready construction means that building owners would not later be required to undertake expensive retrofits.

“This legislation will help ensure that we continue to lead the country in addressing the impacts of climate change on our city and residents,” said Providence Mayor Brett P. Smiley. “By setting benchmarks for both public and private buildings, we are creating a path to a sustainable and healthier future for our community and future generations. I applaud Senator Kallman for championing this critical legislation that will help lower utility costs, improve air quality and directly enhance the well-being of all Rhode Islanders.”

The Act on Climate requires statewide emissions to drop to net-zero by 2050, but as 70% of Rhode Island’s 2050 building stock has already been built, meeting this goal will require retrofitting of existing buildings. The standards that this legislation aims to create would be used to create guidelines for this electrification process.

“Passing this bill is another important step forward in Rhode Island’s march to a net-zero economy. Building decarbonization will not only help us meet the mandates of the Act on Climate, but it will also provide good jobs for working class Rhode Islanders while helping to lower utility costs for taxpayers and businesses. Thank you to Senator Kallman and the entire Senate for its continued commitment to making Rhode Island a leader in creating a green economy,” said Patrick Crowley, secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO.

A study in Maryland showed that clean energy jobs pay more than statewide averages, especially in entry-level positions. In addition, all-electric new construction has reached cost parity with fossil fuel construction.

“We spend approximately 90% of our time indoors, so buildings have direct impacts on the health and economic outcomes of Rhode Islanders. The Building Decarbonization Act will require large existing buildings to reduce their energy use, lowering costs for residents, and it will promote electrification, helping us create the clean energy future we need for our health,” said James Burton, senior policy associate, Institute for Market Transformation.

More efficient, all-electric buildings also have health benefits. According to a Stanford study, poor air quality resulting from burning fossil fuels is linked to increased rates of disease and mortality.  

 

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