In one of its last acts in the current term, the County Council will vote on a bill that aims to decarbonize many types of new buildings — but not before Council President Gabe Albornoz (D-At-large) plans to introduce amendments meant to prolong timelines and benchmarks required by the legislation.
The bill would require many types of new construction to get their energy from electricity, rather than fossil fuels or other non-clean types of energy. It does exempt buildings that rely on natural gas or use a considerable amount of energy to conduct their daily operations. Those types of facilities include manufacturing and production buildings, crematories, life sciences buildings, and farming and farm alcohol production.
The bill also exempts the all-electric building standards from emergency backup systems of buildings that need backup power, are regulated by the state’s Public Service Commission, treat sewage and food waste, and cooking appliances in restaurants, bars and similar businesses.
The county executive’s office is tasked with implementing the regulations to implement the above changes, and Albornoz is planning amendment that County Executive Marc Elrich’s administration “must issue all-electric building standards for new construction as part of the County’s next building code adoption cycle after this Act takes effect but not later than December 31, 2026,” according to council staff reports.
Previously, the bill included the all-electric standards for major renovations and additions in many buildings. The council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee decided to remove that provision from the bill, given ongoing discussions about national building codes, and a similar bill about building energy performance standards. The council passed that bill earlier this year.
According to the bill, the changes to the county building code would not apply to housing projects where 50% or more are moderately priced dwelling units, other forms of affordable housing, or if the building permit application was submitted before Jan. 1, 2027. The same date applies to public and private schools.
County Council Member Hans Riemer (D-At-large) was lead sponsor. He and Elrich, political opponents in the primary election in July, spoke about its importance at an event earlier this year in White Oak.
Previously, the dates had been a year earlier, but Albornoz moved them back a year in order to allow regional utility companies and others in the building industry more time to adapt to the new standards, given that the bill passes.
At a work session for the bill earlier this month, several supporters of the bill held signs in support, stating that decarbonization needed to happen now. But representatives of regional utility companies, including Pepco and Baltimore Gas and Electric Company, said that great demands would be placed on the electric grid, and significant infrastructure improvements would be required.
Albornoz said there are still unanswered questions about the impact on the energy grid, and how fast builders and utility companies can adapt to the law.
“There’s a push for electrification not just in buildings, but in vehicles as well,” Albornoz said. “There will be a report done [by] this September in which the utilities [companies] are cooperating, to determine the overall capacity of the grid, period. … And those are reasonable issues we have to be able to work through … in order to ensure that our grid can handle this capacity.”
Council Vice President Evan Glass (D-At-large) agreed. He told reporters that the building industry and utility companies are supportive of electrification — it’s just a matter of how quickly the companies can shift from fossil fuels and dirty sources of energy to clean ones. But governments have historically had to push private companies to make environmental progress, including the automotive industry regarding vehicle emissions and fuel milage.
“There’s a push and pull always at play here,” Glass said. “And what we’re doing is signaling to the utilities and to industry that we want to move in this direction, because we have to move in this direction. And what’s we’re working on right now, is how quickly can we move to make sure we preserve and protect our environment.”
According to a Pepco spokesperson, that utility has seen a 46% reduction in outage frequency across the greater Washington, D.C., region since 2016. The spokesperson added that the strength of local energy grids must be considered when implementing aspects of the bill.
“We appreciate the increasing demands on the grid as we partner with the County to electrify more energy sectors and move to cleaner forms of electric generation,” Pepco spokesperson Ben Armstrong, wrote in an email. “The grid is a dynamic and integral part of enabling carbon reduction and we are fully committed to supporting those efforts. … We support an equitable and affordable approach to decarbonization. But we must also ensure the readiness of the local energy grid for our customers and communities.”
The council is scheduled to discuss and vote on the legislation at 11:25 a.m. on Tuesday.