DC Metro Update 07/18/22

GAS FREE D.C. - The District's Plan to Completely Rid Gas By 2027

Washington, D.C., is slated to become the second city on the East Coast to ban fossil fuel-burning boilers and water heaters in most new buildings. The City Council gave its unanimous approval of two bills late last week.

The Mayor-endorsed bill would see the nation’s capital join New York City in instituting a ban on most fossil fuel heat, as a substantial part of a larger climate action plan, particularly because buildings account for about three-quarters of the district’s emissions.

One of the two bills, known as the “Clean Energy DC Building Code Amendment Act,” would prohibit the use of fossil fuels for space and water heat in new commercial buildings, including residences four stories and up, starting in 2027. The bill also provides that those buildings would need to be “net-zero energy,” meaning they would have to produce or conserve more energy on-site from solar panels or other sources than they consume.

The measure would exempt buildings deemed “essential to protecting public health and safety,” which could use fossil fuel for backup power generation. Unlike in some gas-ban cities, D.C.’s law would also include gas stoves, meaning restaurants and residents would have to use electric induction instead of cooking over an open flame. If a building were to see “substantial improvements,” the energy requirements would kick in. The City Council’s definitions would prohibit “on-site fuel combustion” in net-zero buildings, meaning hydrogen and renewable natural gas appliances would not qualify

A second bill, called the “Climate Commitment Act,” contains a similar ban on fossil fuel heat for new district-owned buildings, such as schools, starting in 2025. Its provisions would also look beyond the buildings sector. By 2026, all vehicles bought or leased by the district would have to be zero-emissions models, and all of the District’s operations would need to be carbon-free by 2040, and completely carbon-neutral five years later.

The Construction Codes Coordinating Board, which sets building codes for the district, has given initial approval for an all-electric mandate for space and water heat in residences smaller than four stories. If granted final approval by the board, it would be sent to the City Council for review and possible adoption in late 2023, according to city officials.

The Apartment & Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington predicted that the bills would raise the cost of affordable housing, harm tenants, discourage a post-pandemic recovery in commercial real estate — with consequences for property tax revenues, and potentially the electric grid.

Mark Rodeffer, co-chair of the Beyond Gas subcommittee for the Sierra Club's DC chapter said that net-zero energy elementary schools in Virginia and the district have recently reported large cost savings on their utility costs. He also pointed to a 2020 analysis by clean energy advocates RMI concluding that net-zero energy buildings can be built “without a significant cost burden” and lead to tens of thousands in lifetime savings for homes.

Doug Siglin, D.C. coordinator for the CCAN Action Fund, a green group that supports the bills, framed the gas bans as especially important given the uncertain future of federal climate policy.

One thing is certain, change is coming to the development and construction industry in the D.C. Metro Area.





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