The Loma Prietan - July/August 2010

Campaign Urges Green Retrofits for Buildings

by Nicole Kemeny and Julio Magalhaes

In Silicon Valley, buildings are the second largest source of emissions, and retrofitting existing buildings offers the largest and quickest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The time is therefore ripe for the Green Buildings for Cool Cities (GBCC) campaign, which seeks to reduce emissions associated with buildings. GBCC is a partnership between the Sierra Club and the US Green Building Council (USGBC), started in the fall of 2009. The Chapter has been working with the Northern California Chapter of USGBC for over a year to formulate a pilot program to guide local efforts of this partnership.

The Chapter's goal is to encourage retrofits that make buildings more energy-efficient or even convert them to producers of renewable energy. A fortuitous concurrence will enable our GBCC effort to join with and augment several existing building retrofit programs now being implemented or under development at the national, state, and regional level.

At the national level, Congress is currently considering "Homestar" legislation proposed by President Obama. Homestar would give households incentives in the form of low-cost loans, tax rebates, tax breaks, and even immediate point-of-sale rebates to pay for weatherization and other energy-saving retrofit projects.

In the Chapter's region, two major "energy retrofit" programs are currently under development with funding from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and from the California Energy Commission. CaliforniaFirst is a 14-county pilot project that offers a new financing mechanism enabled by Assembly Bill 811, passed in 2008. Santa Clara, San Mateo, and San Benito Counties are all part of the pilot, as are many Peninsula cities. AB 811 allows jurisdictions to establish Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) districts, in which building owners can get a city or county loan for energy-saving retrofit projects and repay that loan through their property tax bill. Since a PACE loan is attached to the property rather than the owner, the loan gets paid off, even if the owner sells the building. Funding for the loans will come from a privately-financed renewable fund, which will allow all who want such financing to get it.

The other program, Retrofit Bay Area, is an eight-county project of the Association of Bay Area Governments designed to encourage and simplify energy retrofits by homeowners. This project will provide educational materials explaining the economic and environmental benefits of retrofits and will also set up a call center to match interested homeowners with certified contractors trained to do the retrofits.

One of us (Julio) and volunteers Gita Dev and Margie Suozzo met recently with representatives from both San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties and learned that all the cities in both counties will be ready to offer both programs beginning this fall. The programs will be administered by the counties. The Chapter's Climate Action Campaign has a large network of volunteers and is looking for more to provide the "boots on the ground" to educate their communities on these programs and thus help stimulate demand for energy retrofits. By extension, we can help create new green jobs in construction and manufacturing. As the programs roll out, Chapter volunteers will be poised to seize the moment and help their communities take this essential step for addressing climate change!

Nicole Kemeny is a volunteer in the Chapter's Global Warming Program. Julio Magalhaes is the Chapter's Global Warming Program Coordinator.