The bills would help Oregonians take advantage of various state and federal incentives and rebates to weatherize their homes, install electric heat pumps and other energy-efficient appliances.
They also set a target of installing 500,000 new electric heat pumps in Oregon by 2030, with special focus on lower-income Oregonians and communities that bear a disproportionate burden of environmental pollution. Currently, just a small percentage of Oregonians heat and/or cool their homes with heat pumps.
The bills do not include a mandate to electrify new commercial and residential construction – but rather aim to nudge residents and homebuilders to go that route voluntarily.
“We’ve had heat domes and wildfires and nearly two years ago 100 Oregonians in 28 cities across the state died during the June heat dome. Many of them died in their own homes,” said Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber , D- Portland , who introduced the bills at a roundtable Monday.
Lieber said the bills make sure “our homes are not only efficient, but that they are our first line of defense for the climate crisis that we have before us.”
Buildings – including homes and businesses – are the second largest source of climate pollution in Oregon behind transportation, responsible for more than a third of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions – mostly from electricity sources like oil and coal and from natural gas.
One of the bills would require the Oregon Department of Energy to create an all-in-one navigation system for people to find the right state and federal rebates and tax breaks and to access technical assistance. The bill also directs the state to create an electric home rebate program that would provide rebates for the purchase and installation of appliances and other upgrades.
A second bill – Build Smart from the Start – would ensure buildings are constructed efficiently, reduce energy bills and have a smaller carbon emission footprint. The bill requires the state Building Codes Division to continue reporting on Oregon’s current progress toward achieving climate goals for new residential and commercial buildings. It asks the division to consider both energy efficiency and the carbon impacts of building materials.
Another bill would establish a “Building Performance Standard” for large commercial buildings to reduce energy use and emissions by improving energy efficiency. Building owners would choose from a set of flexible requirements, and financial incentives would be available for early adopters.
The final bill in the package would accelerate energy retrofits and upgrades in state buildings.
The bills stem from recommendations by the bipartisan Joint Task Force on Resilient Efficient Buildings , formed last year by the Legislature. The task force, which included legislators and representatives from nonprofits, building groups and local utilities, issued a report in December.
Rep. Pam Marsh , D- Ashland , one of the task force co-chairs, said the recommendations did not include the prohibition on natural gas in new construction because some group members did not support it.
“NW Natural was one of the very outspoken partners in this conversation. And it just became clear, given the diversity of the group, that we would be better off if we really worked to design a system of incentives rather than take on a direct confrontation in terms of fuel sources,” Marsh told The Oregonian /OregonLive.
“This package is less confrontative and more an attempt to really engage people in doing energy efficiency and decarbonisation activities,” she said.
The bills allow people to get incentives for electric heat pumps while keeping their natural gas furnace or fireplace as a backup, Marsh said.
“We recognize that some people need to take one step at a time and see how this is working,” Marsh said. “But we know that federal money is really going to emphasize the most efficient appliances and if you look at heating, there’s pretty much no question at this point that electric heat pumps have it well over and above any other kind of heating source.”
Marsh said since one of the bills aims to align Oregon’s building codes with the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals, it could lead the Building Codes Division to consider whether electrification is the most efficient way in new construction.
In Washington state , it was the Building Codes Council that mandated heat pumps be used in new residential and commercial buildings for all space heating/cooling and water heating, bypassing that state’s Legislature.
Because the bills are mostly a framework, Marsh said, they take advantage of federal money to pay for much of the energy efficiency upgrades. But some additional funding will be required.
The 500,000 heat pump goal will largely be funded by $25 million the Legislature approved last year, along with other federal and state programs and incentives.
Marsh said the bill package, if adopted, would likely cost Oregonians an additional $20 million , including an education and training program for heat pump installation, incentive money for large commercial building standard early adopters and creating the navigation portal for people to find efficiency incentives and rebates.
Meredith Connolly , the director of Climate Solutions Oregon, a Northwest-based nonprofit focused on clean energy, praised the bills but said they’re just a start to what’s going to be a long, expensive process.
“These bills set a good trajectory and get us started. But there’s a lot more to do to get the job done,” said Connolly, who also was a member of the bipartisan task force.
“It’s really expensive to do home-by-home retrofit and repair and it will take a long time and a lot more resources to do that,” she said. “It’s going to be a multi-decade effort to make sure every home is resilient and efficient, prepared for the climate crisis and running on clean energy.”
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