British Columbia needs local government innovation to meet its climate targets

Blog - Sept. 13, 2013 - By Ellen Pond

Time and time again, municipal governments have shown leadership and innovation on climate action. We know that they can and must play an important role in advancing our climate targets. But are we helping them to lead?

In some cases, yes. For example, recent changes to the B.C. Building Code that come into effect in late 2013 and 2014 could increase energy performance for new buildings by up to 24 per cent. Provided that effective enforcement mechanisms are in place, these new standards will advance new building energy performance across the Province.

Still, local governments don’t have a lot of room to go beyond Code to innovate green building climate solutions. While there are piecemeal policy work-arounds, like setting high energy performance standards using Development Permit Areas (DPA’s), the current jurisdictional situation ultimately poses a challenge for many communities keen to ramp up energy efficiency.

And in some cases, the provincial government could be moving back, not forwards, in its support of local government’s ability to meet climate action targets.

For example, the Province’s Building Code modernization process proposes to put all regulatory authority for buildings in the hands of the provincial government. On the one hand, uniformity supports province-wide standards and enforcement, ensures that everyone has the same minimum level of energy performance and addresses provincial concerns about patchwork regulations. On the other hand, and addressed by the Union of BC Municipalities’ response last year, it doesn’t leave room for the kind of innovation that could result in significant energy savings.

It may be a far cry from what could be achieved if communities were given a little room to innovate to meet their climate targets.  Such innovation would let communities push the envelope on Green Buildings, paving the way for others (including the Code, potentially) to follow.

Advancing green buildings through innovation, opt-in regulations and high standards

An energy efficient home in Dawson Creek, B.C.Local governments have already demonstrated a willingness to lead and innovate on the design of green buildings. Solar hot water requirements make for a good example. With the early work done by the City of Dawson Creek and Solar BC, the provincial government implemented an opt-in regulation that now mandates new single-family residential buildings to be built solar hot-water ready. As of June 2013, 48 municipalities have signed on.

Similarly, the Green Building Leaders network has been working with local government partners to develop innovative, sustainable building policy for the past five years. For example, we designed a renewable energy policy that would require 10 per cent of a building’s energy to be powered with building or community-scale renewable energy, such as sewer heat recovery. With the Union of B.C. Municipalities passing a renewable energy resolution (B98, 2011), this innovative approach could make for another voluntary opt-in regulation, similar to solar hot water.

Other policy options are also available, like the district energy-ready requirement that has been explored by the Community Energy Association, and an electric vehicle-ready requirement developed by the City of Vancouver.

Renewable energy, district energy-ready and electric vehicle-ready requirements could be the beginnings of a suite of high-performance, voluntary opt-in regulations that would allow leading local governments to implement the greenest buildings possible, resulting in energy, economic and emissions savings for the province. Quest BC has recently called for just this sort of approach.

The greenest building code in North America

Improving the Building Code for energy performance can help the province reach its visionary climate goals by leveling the playing field through smart modernization and workable enforcement mechanisms, and by continuous energy performance improvements with each Code revision.

Add on a standardized suite of voluntary Green Building opt-in regulations for communities and the on-bill financing for retrofits, and the province could be headed toward a truly game-changing regulatory framework with substantial energy and emissions savings.

Critically, the province needs to give permission to leading local governments to test and pilot leading-edge building regulations, such as mandatory home energy labeling that could make purchasing a green home as easy as buying an energy efficient refrigerator. 

This multi-pronged approach standardizes minimum energy performance levels through the Code, continues to advance energy efficiency through opt-ins and innovates building energy performance through an on-going partnership between governments. It could even lead to the most advanced building standards – and building industry – in North America.


Ellen Pond

Ellen Pond developed climate change and clean energy solutions in collaboration with communities while leading the Institute's buildings and urban solutions program. 


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