Originally published on NRDC Expert Blog.
By Alejandra Mejia Cunningham 

Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed the first of four cutting-edge energy laws this week to reduce climate-warming emissions as well as unhealthy pollution in homes and places of work. The new laws will put Colorado’s building sector on track to meet the state’s climate goals and ensure that the transition to healthy, 100% clean energy buildings will result in good, family-sustaining jobs for those who need them most.

Energy use in buildings is responsible for 20 percent of Colorado’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Emissions that come from burning fossil fuels like methane (aka “natural”) gas directly in our homes can also make our families sick today. Fortunately, we can now harness plentiful and affordable electricity from the sun and wind to power all our building energy needs. By powering our homes and businesses with clean energy and making them as efficient as possible, we can eliminate toxic indoor air pollution and cut down on our utility bills.

What Do the New Laws Do?

Legislators and advocates worked tirelessly during this year’s busy legislative session to craft a comprehensive set of policies that put in place the necessary safeguards for a smooth and equitable transition to the clean energy buildings of the future and make it easier and more affordable for Coloradans to make the healthy and climate friendly choices when they are ready. These laws include:

  • Beneficial Electrification in Buildings (SB21-246, sponsored by Senator Stephen Fenberg and Representatives Alex Valdez and Meg Froelich), which was signed into law this afternoon, directs utilities Xcel and Black Hills Energy to launch programs to increase the availability — and reduce the cost — of efficient electric appliances in Colorado. No one will be forced to replace their appliances; instead, these programs will make it easier for Coloradoans to find, purchase, and install healthy electric options if they choose.
  • Gas Demand-Side Management (HB21-1238, sponsored by Representative Tracey Bernett and Senator Chris Hansen) directs the Public Utilities Commission to set energy savings targets for gas utilities to expand energy efficiency programs and help more customers cut energy waste.
  • Commercial Building Benchmarking and Performance Standards (HB21-1286, sponsored by Representatives Cathy Kipp and Alex Valdez and Senators Kevin Priola and Brittany Pettersen) sets up the framework for owners of large commercial buildings to track and report their energy use over time and comply with performance standards that will cut energy waste and reduce pollution.
  • Clean Heat Standard (SB21-264, sponsored by Senator Chris Hansen and Representatives Alex Valdez and Tracey Bernett), sets robust and enforceable emission reduction targets so that gas utilities across the state can leverage all of the above programs and incentives to deliver the GHG reductions the state desperately needs.

Together, these four new policies give homeowners and businesses a chance to take stock of their energy use and make it easier and more affordable to upgrade to modern appliances that rely on Colorado’s ever-cleaner electricity. At a time when research clearly shows that old gas-powered appliances waste energy and contribute to troubling health effects, policies that help Coloradans make healthier and more affordable energy choices are just common sense.

Leading with Equity and Economic Stability for All

The transition to healthy and affordable clean energy buildings can be especially transformative for Black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) and low-income communities, which often face the highest levels of air pollution and put large portions of their incomes toward utility bills. Investing in highly efficient and cleaner building systems can reduce energy costs, improve indoor air quality, and create local family-sustaining jobs. To deliver on this potential for transformation, our investments must prioritize historically underserved and disadvantaged communities. We must also ensure that the jobs that result from those investments are family-sustaining and accessible to all Coloradans.

The new healthy building laws address both these needs. The Beneficial Electrification in Buildings law that was signed this afternoon requires that at least 20 percent of program funds be directed toward disproportionately impacted communities, which include historically underserved BIPOC communities and families with lower incomes. The law also includes meaningful labor protections to ensure healthy building work is performed by a well-trained and well-paid workforce.

A successful transition to clean energy buildings depends on the workers who will swap out old appliances, improve energy efficiency, and produce the homegrown clean energy that will power our future. The bill that Governor Polis signed into law this morning and the others that he is expected to sign in the coming days represent a critical step forward for the state’s clean energy workforce. Together, these new policies give households and businesses across the state new opportunities to make choices that reduce pollution, save money, and create high-quality jobs.

Featured image: The Alliance Center building in downtown Denver, CO

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