- The city of Denver's climate office is working to hire a building decarbonization incentives manager. Believed to be the first position with that title, city officials say the new hire would help Denver achieve its goal of dramatically lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from buildings and homes.
- The position's work will be supported by the city's new Climate Protection Fund, a 0.25% sales and use tax increase that was approved through a 2020 ballot initiative. The voter-backed fund is expected to generate up to $40 million per year and will support the city's climate and decarbonization efforts, such as transitioning existing and new buildings onto electric energy systems.
- The city's Energize Denver Task Force — comprised of representatives from the real estate, energy, and affordable housing sectors, as well as environmental groups and others — recently shared recommendations calling for certain steps to push buildings' GHG emissions toward zero by 2040. They include requiring building owners to partially electrify space and water heating at time of system replacement, and offering incentives to aid the buildings sector in the energy transition.
Across the U.S., state and municipalities have taken different approaches to reducing emissions in new and sometimes existing buildings. Officials in California, for instance, are working toward heavily incentivizing the use of electric heat pumps over gas alternatives, following a patchwork of more aggressive local ordinances against natural gas. Seattle last year opted to update its building code to ban fossil fuels for heating in new commercial and large multifamily construction. Chicago also has been working to develop a decarbonization plan that places an emphasis on equity.
In Denver, buildings and homes account for almost two-thirds of the city's GHG emissions. Katrina Managan, buildings team lead in the city’s Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency (CASR), described how efforts have evolved from focusing on improving energy efficiency in buildings to embracing electrification.
In past years, Denver would regularly adopt updated national codes for new buildings, "but we weren't doing anything particularly innovative in that space as a city and we weren't doing anything with our existing buildings and homes," Managan said.
In 2018, the city committed to reducing GHG emissions 80% below 2005 levels by 2050. Shortly thereafter, scientist warnings illuminated the need for more aggressive goals, Managan said, which would require tackling buildings sector emissions more aggressively. "Our plan was obsolete according to the climate science," she said.
Today, CASR has access to the recently established Climate Protection Fund, which the city states can be used in part to "upgrade the energy efficiency of homes, offices and industry to reduce their carbon footprint, utility bills, and indoor air pollution." Funds are also meant for workforce training and job creation in clean energy; investment in renewable energy tech; neighborhood-based environmental and climate justice programs; adaptation and resilience programs for vulnerable communities; and efforts that support clean transportation options.
CASR will use some of those funds to support the building decarbonization incentives manager role, Managan said. The climate office is taking the Energize Denver Task Force's recommendations into account in developing the role. The task force was focused on policy to help existing buildings achieve net-zero energy, or powered by 100% renewable electricity, by 2040.
The vision for the position broadly entails developing and managing incentives, pilots, and demo projects for electrification in commercial and multifamily buildings. In keeping with one of the leading focuses of the task force, some of the charges for the new role center on equity concerns, including ensuring that half of incentive dollars go toward low-income or under-resourced recipients.
Beyond September's developments, it's been an eventful past year in the city's work to reduce building emissions. In January, CASR released a Net Zero Energy New Buildings & Homes Implementation Plan that it worked on with the New Buildings Institute. In June, the office put out a Renewable Heating and Cooling Plan.