2021 | Bethesda Beat

Opinion: Proposed energy standards for buildings would help address climate emergency

County Council will hold a hearing on legislation on July 20

share this

On July 20, the Montgomery County Council will hold a hearing on proposed Building Energy Use Benchmarking and Performance Standards (BEPS), Bill No. 16-21, as first reported in Bethesda Beat (“County might expand energy performance standards,” May 10).

The proposed BEPS are a foundational tool for addressing the climate emergency that the county declared in 2017, setting a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2027 and by 100% by 2035.

According to the county’s climate action plan, buildings constitute 50% of county greenhouse gas emissions — 26% of which are from commercial buildings. These heat-trapping gases act as a blanket wrapped around our planet and drive global warming. Eliminating such emissions is a critical step in slowing climate change.

The proposed legislation, one of the top climate action plan recommendations, applies to commercial and multifamily buildings 25,000 square feet or greater, which constitutes about 85% of the floor area of all commercial and multifamily buildings, and county-owned buildings.

Implementation of the standards would be phased in, starting with larger commercial buildings 50,000 square feet or greater that have benchmarked and measured their energy use for several years.

The BEPS legislation does not propose specific numerical energy use targets; these will be determined and phased in as data are collected. The performance standards will be based on site intensity of energy use under the control of owners and occupants, and will provide full energy use credit for onsite solar.

Jurisdictions around the country and the world, including Washington, D.C., are increasingly using building energy performance standards to achieve their climate goals.

The D.C. program started in January 2021. It covers commercial and multifamily buildings of 10,000 square feet or greater and utilizes a complementary technical hub to provide guidance and assistance to the private sector. Montgomery County proposes to partner with and expand the hub, which is critical to success.

Using BEPS to rapidly reduce emissions depends upon the percentage of building stock to which they apply, the stringency of the energy use performance targets, and the speed at which they are implemented.

In our view, Montgomery County, in implementing regulations, also should provide financial protections for low- and moderate-income residents of covered multifamily buildings and include programs to mitigate the costs of compliance.

On the positive side, the BEPS bill strongly favors the climate plan recommendation to electrify buildings by scoring only the energy use of the building itself. When a heat pump is employed, this can provide large savings relative to gas and oil heat.

The BEPS program would also produce other benefits, such as reduced utility/operating costs, job creation, and improved health from better indoor air quality and reduced pollution.

We are running out of time on climate change. The council should pass the legislation as quickly as possible.

Your voice is important. Tell your council members today that you want them to support the BEPS bill.

Diana Younts is co-chair of the Takoma Park Mobilization Environment Committee.

Gina Mathias is a sustainability manager for the city of Takoma Park. The views she expressed here are her opinions and do not necessarily represent those of the Takoma Park City Council.

***

Editor’s note: Bethesda Beat encourages readers to send us their thoughts about local topics we have covered for consideration as a letter to the editor or op-ed piece in our Saturday newsletter. Email them to editorial@bethesdamagazine.com. Here are our guidelines. We require a name and hometown for publication. We also require a phone number (not for publication) for us to verify who wrote the letter. Please provide a source for any facts in your letter that were not part of our coverage; if they can’t be verified, they likely will be omitted.