Bills Would Track, Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions Coming from Large Buildings


PROVIDENCE — Legislative leaders are moving toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings.

A set of bills up for consideration in the General Assembly would benchmark emissions from large buildings (H7850) and expand the Green Buildings Act to set Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building standards for more state-owned and state-used buildings (H7278).

In New England cities like Providence, natural gas hookups for heating and cooking remain a more affordable option than heat pumps. Outside the region’s metropolitan areas, heating oil reigns supreme as the chief way most people heat their homes. Fully electrifying buildings, to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, would require swapping furnaces for heat pumps, and gas stoves for induction ovens.

“Buildings are the toughest sector to decarbonize, if we’re being honest,” said Kai Salem, policy coordinator for Green Energy Consumers Alliance, while testifying in support of H7850 at a House Environment and Natural Resources Committee hearing last week. “But this bill is the No. 1 thing we can do this year to reduce emissions from the buildings sector.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Kislak, D-Providence, would require the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources (OER) to track energy use and greenhouse gas emissions — whether from electricity, natural gas or heating oil — from residential and commercial buildings above 20,000 square feet. Building owners would be required to file an annual report with OER, which would be uploaded onto the state’s climate change website and input into a public dashboard.

As proposed, the legislation over time would require buildings starting at 15,000 square feet to report emissions as soon as 2028. The bill also includes performance standards established by OER that owners of large buildings would have to reach every five years or pay an alternative compliance payment if they fail to reduce emissions. It also gives municipalities the option to have higher reduction standards.

“My kids are asking me every day to do my best to leave behind a planet where they can thrive as well.“ State Rep. Rebecca Kislak

Residential heating, commercial heating and industrial heating and processes combined account for 35.4% of statewide emissions, according to data recently released by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. According to the report, total emissions in the state went up 8.2% from 2017 to 2018.

DEM’s analysis showed Rhode Island emissions were 1.8% above 1990 emission levels in 2018. The Act on Climate law signed last year requires the state to reach 10% below 1990 emissions levels by 2020, and the state is not on track to get there.

State officials are also scrambling for plans to reduce emissions in other sectors. Last year’s late death of the Transportation & Climate Initiative, which fell apart after Connecticut and Massachusetts declined to take it up within their respective governments, was the only plan Rhode Island had for controlling vehicle emissions en masse and allocating money for green projects.

Bill H7278, sponsored by Rep. Terri Cortvriend, D-Portsmouth, would expand the number of state-owned or state-used buildings using LEED standards to reduce building emissions.

The legislation also expands the membership of the Green Buildings Advisory Committee to include additional stakeholders. Under the bill if passed, the Rhode Island Department of Administration (DOA) would be required to publish an annual report demonstrating the energy savings and emission reductions from implementing LEED standards.

The new $300 million school construction bond, before the Legislature now for consideration, includes a number of incentives to spur schools to go green. Public schools in Rhode Island are infamously out of date, with the average age of most school structures spanning decades. Many lack modern heating or cooling systems — if they have cooling systems at all — and fewer still are primed for reducing building emissions.

“We need to transition schools away from reliance on fossil fuels and instead be generating their own electricity,” said Erica Hammond, lead organizer at Climate Jobs Rhode Island, a coalition of environmental and labor groups.

The coalition is campaigning to decarbonize school buildings by calling for school improvement recommendations such as solar panels on roofs and above carports, upgrading to modern HVAC systems, and switching to electric buses.

The new bond as written would also give school districts a 5% reimbursement bonus if they spent more than $1 million on energy-efficiency or renewable energy projects, with a 10% bonus if the buildings are net zero after completion.

The bond remains under consideration. Bills H7850 and H7278 were held for further study.


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