Letter to the Editor | Let’s REACH toward climate action together by improving our homes’ energy efficiency

Along with 90% of our fellow Piedmonters (according to a recent community survey), we are very worried about the world our children and grandchildren will be living in. With the polar ice caps melting, sea levels rising, and more frequent and intense wildfires destroying homes and filling our lungs with smoke, we have to take serious action now to prevent the worst-case scenarios for climate change.

The proposed “Reach Codes”–amendments to the California Building Energy Efficiency Standards–that are now before the City Council are an important step towards Piedmont reducing our contribution to the climate crisis.

City staff led a very thorough process to develop these local codes, beginning with research in 2019, and public engagement efforts (including residents and building professionals) from February-June 2020 with multiple informational meetings, community forums, workshops and surveys. The Reach Codes went through several iterations, and the end product is an excellent distillation of the input received.

In particular, staff responded to concerns about one-size-fits-all requirements by developing a menu of options for energy upgrades, based on the preferences, budget, and individual circumstances of homeowners.

These upgrades will be triggered by sizable renovations or expansions to Piedmont’s aging housing infrastructure, when it is most pragmatic and cost-effective to do so.

Across California, cities have developed Climate Action plans for how they will each significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions their community generates, and more than 30 cities have approved Reach Codes. Piedmont’s Climate Action Plan 2.0, approved by the City Council in 2018, specifically calls for the development of such Codes to improve residential energy efficiency and assist our transition away from natural gas, a greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuel that contributes to climate change.

Emissions from natural gas in our homes account for almost half of the emissions created within our town’s boundaries.

Consequently, using less natural gas, whether through improved building efficiency or by replacing natural gas appliances (furnaces, water heaters, etc) over time with efficient electric appliances–will be key to Piedmont reducing its emissions. Even PG&E is behind a long-term shift toward electrification, telling regulators that it wants to “avoid investments in new gas assets that might later prove underutilized” under the state’s long-term decarbonization goals, and that it “supports state and local government policies that promote all-electric new construction when it is feasible and cost-effective.”

Each Reach Code before Council has been vetted, as required by the CEC, to make sure it is cost effective.

The facts

It’s important to dispel some misinformation about Piedmont’s proposed Reach Codes (review these FAQs and the information in the agenda report for the second reading on August 17 to learn more).

  • First, the Codes DO NOT require any existing home to install new, highly efficient electric appliances unless the homeowner chooses to do so. Instead, homeowners undertaking remodeling projects of more than $25,000 will have a menu of seven energy efficiency options to choose from, allowing the unique conditions of the home and desires of the homeowner to be accounted for. Homeowners with projects exceeding $100,000 will choose two items from the menu. Many of these options are low-cost, such as adding insulation, and will help reduce the amount of natural gas we use from our existing gas furnaces and water heaters without any dramatic changes to our homes.
  • Second, all-electric construction will apply only to completely new home construction and unattached accessory dwelling units, where the cost of running a new gas line can be avoided entirely.
  • Third, the Reach Codes will NOT require solar panel installation on all remodels or roof replacements. Rather, the changes will require solar panels when a homeowner adds a significant amount of new roof space via an addition. Solar panels typically pay for themselves in 7 to 12 years, and then provide free electricity for the rest of their 25-year lifespan. There are also numerous solar panel leasing programs available to residents who cannot afford to or choose not to make an upfront investment.

The Reach Code requirements are relatively minor in the scheme of home renovations but important steps to improving energy efficiency and reducing emissions to tackle climate change.

Yes, this transition away from natural gas is going to take some action by all of us in each of our homes, but we truly believe the Piedmont community can and should do it!

Please join us in urging your City Council members to pass the proposed Reach Codes on August 17.

Learn more about Reach Codes:

Katie Aubrecht, Indira Balkisoon, Elizabeth Behrens, realtor Moira Chapman, Irene Cheng, Ellington Davis (PUSD alum), Jonathan Davis, Jezabel Droga (PHS student), Glenn Friedman, Amy Griffith (PUSD parent), Claudia Harrison, Toby Jacob (PHS student), Garrett Keating, Judy Kelly, Ronna Kelly, Russell Griffith (PUSD parent), Zenobia Lloyd (PHS student), Mara Lovric (PHS student), Marianne Mitosinka, George Wick, Samantha Miller, Susan Miller-Davis, Margaret Ovenden, Henri F. Pellissier Jr., Rob Peterson, Thomas Robinson (PHS student), Jina Saikia, Steve Schiller, Brett Snyder (architect and Associate Professor), Julia Walsh (MD, MSc), Sophia Ware (PHS student), Tom Webster

4 thoughts on “Letter to the Editor | Let’s REACH toward climate action together by improving our homes’ energy efficiency

  1. Great letter Fran. Please see my response to Mr. Jackson’s response to the delay of the second reading of the codes.

  2. Rick – The co-signers are referring to the 90% of Piedmonters who considered climate change to be real and a serious threat. Check the presentation from FM3 from the 7/6 meeting – I think that is where the 90% is referenced.

  3. As far as I know, there has only been one City sponsored survey on Reach codes. Comments and a summary is included in the July 20 Staff report at p 5: “About half of survey respondents supported the initial (Reach) code ideas. Generally respondents the City give monetary incentives rather than change building standards . . . many respondents expressed concerns about cost, about having to adopt to particular technologies, and about having their economic choices restricted.”

    Would you kindly give a reference to the survey that shows 90% of residents support the Reach codes?

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