Updated: Feb 18, 2022
My teeth clench as I hear this phrase again and again, even most recently from Katie Dykes, the commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental protection. "The transportation sector is the biggest contributor to carbon emissions in Connecticut." This is patently false. The building sector is by far the largest contributor. The confusion has to do with how the information is presented in the inventory. Transportation is a giant slice of the pie, but building emissions are distributed in the residential, commercial, industrial, and electrical sectors.
Of course transportation is a very large sector and deserves attention, but the building sector is a huge opportunity for action that hasn't received enough attention from legislators. Advocates will point out that transportation contributes the most air pollution of any sector, and yes this is true for outdoor air pollution, but we aren't tracking indoor pollution which, as a result of onsite fossil fuel combustion for heating and cooking, can exceed the EPA pollution limits by up to 10 times, and guess what - we spend most of our time indoors.
The other factor is that investments in buildings are incredibly long-lived which means that new construction and renovations that happen now will still be in-place and operational for 20-60 years and beyond, whereas vehicles might have a lifetime of up to 15 years. We should be prioritizing the electrification of our homes as well as our vehicles. As we make plans for decarbonizing our building stock, if we have any chance of meeting our state's climate targets, we need to be requiring reductions now in line with our 2050 climate goals. Without meaningful legislative action now, we could end up spending millions of dollars on new and renovated buildings that lock in decades of wasted energy, air pollution, and avoidable greenhouse gas emissions.
As a first step, legislators can consider two initiatives this legislative session: an energy stretch code, and energy-consumption labeling. Both have had demonstrated success in other jurisdictions.
A statewide energy stretch code that could voluntary be adopted by municipalities would give cities and towns the option to require greater energy efficiency in new construction and major renovations. Local governments see the impacts of climate and air pollution firsthand but are unable to require greater levels of energy efficiency than the State Building Code. The ability to adopt a stretch code would allow cities to lock in energy savings and public health benefits for years to come. Over time, that would in turn provide energy affordability and reduced health impacts for their residents.
Energy-consumption reporting at the time of sale or rental would allow Connecticut residents to make informed decisions about their biggest expense, their home. Knowing your home's energy efficiency before purchasing or renting is essential consumer protection. Especially in Connecticut, with the second-highest energy burden in the nation, our residents need to be able to make informed decisions about their most significant purchase. Many other jurisdictions already mandate some form of energy-consumption reporting. This reporting would encourage energy efficiency retrofits and help homeowners and landlords market their energy-efficiency upgrades in the real estate market.
These two policies together would address both new and existing construction and would provide a good foundation for transforming our building sector to be more affordable, equitable, healthy, and resilient.