Thought Leadership

California Legislation Aims for Big Gains in Energy Efficiency

Submitted by Hanna Grene on September 17 2015
New rules lead the country in statewide benchmarking & transparency

In the late hours of the last day of the legislative session on Sept. 11, the California legislature passed Assembly Bill 802, a critical energy efficiency bill. Sponsored by Assembly Member Das Williams, it ensures commercial and multifamily building owners and operators will now have access to monthly whole-building energy usage information. This has long been a sticking point for building energy measurement and management; as well as the successful implementation of local and state benchmarking policies.

In addition, AB 802 enables energy efficiency programs to provide incentives for customers to bring existing buildings up to and beyond California efficiency standards and removes the state benchmarking policy known as AB 1103, which required building owners to disclose building energy use to tenants or buyers only at the time of a whole-building lease, sale or refinance. In its place, AB 802 authorizes the California Energy Commission to implement a comprehensive benchmarking policy — including both multifamily and commercial buildings — that will require building energy use to be reported publicly on a regular basis, subject to requirements that will be determined through a public rulemaking process. CSE discussed the merits of a comprehensive, annual, statewide benchmarking policy in a March blog posting, but access to the whole-building energy use information needed for benchmarking remained a barrier at that time.

To champion access to whole-building energy use information, CSE has been working with a dedicated group of benchmarking experts led by the Natural Resources Defense Council with key support from Green Cities California and representatives from the cities of San Francisco, Berkeley and Los Angeles. Working together, this group was able to leverage additional support from local governments, affordable housing advocates, nonprofits and industry groups as well as national organizations such as the Institute for Market Transformation.

CSE applauds the Energy Commission and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research for their leadership on this issue and offers our congratulations for their work to position California as the first state in the nation to authorize a statewide benchmarking and transparency program.

Putting policy into action

Just days before the passage of AB 802, the Energy Commission adopted the Existing Buildings Energy Efficiency Action Plan, a roadmap for reducing energy use in buildings by 20% by 2030.

AB 802 and Strategy 1.2 of the action plan fit together two critical pieces of the building benchmarking and transparency puzzle: access to whole-building energy data and a roadmap for a statewide benchmarking program. The passage of these two policies sets the stage for a new era of building energy transparency in California that, if leveraged, will lead to significant energy savings in existing buildings.

CSE commends Commissioner Andrew McAllister and commission staff for this achievement, and their vision in writing this ambitious and comprehensive action plan. California is setting a high mark for energy efficiency in existing buildings and developing a model other states can reference in the coming years.

Local government leadership

For cities considering benchmarking policies, this is the moment to act. Local governments have an opportunity to join cities that have already enacted policies as leaders in advance of a statewide program.

Continued stakeholder momentum and cross-sector support of data access, benchmarking and transparency will be critical to successful implementation and CSE encourages local governments to take the lead in alignment with the state program.

To learn more about benchmarking policies and the path to reaching the state’s zero net energy goals for existing buildings, join CSE's upcoming webinar Local Policies to Achieve Zero Net Energy Buildings on September 23 with Hilary Firestone of the Office of the Los Angeles Mayor, Marshall Duer-Balkind with the District of Columbia, Dave Weil from the City of San Diego and Katie Ross of Cushman Wakefield.

About Hanna Grene