Building green: Why the wait?

Columnist Andre Carrel wonders why we aren’t building more net-zero-ready buildings now

Columnist Andre Carrel (File photo)

We have made ambitious plans in our Official Community Plan (OCP), such as a vision “to decrease dependence on fossil fuels and transition to local renewable energy sources.” By 2050, less than 30 years from now, the OCP wants our CO2 emissions to have been reduced by 80 percent from what they were in 2007. The federal government promises a “net-zero energy ready” model building code to be ready for the provinces by 2030. Events around the world suggest, however, that the climate is not just planning to change; it is very much in the process of changing.

Our OCP recognizes that “buildings make for the largest component of our emissions.” Do we have to wait until the end of the decade for the federal government to have designed a model building code? Why should we not use the statutory tools we already have and the technology now available to go beyond planning and to now take steps toward the goal we have set for ourselves in our OCP?

Building permit records show that, in the last decade, nearly $70 million have been invested in single family and duplex residential buildings in Terrace. The insulation, doors, and windows built into these dwellings are a vast improvement over what would have been the norm 30 years ago. They do not, however, meet the emission standards we have targeted in our OCP for 2050, now less than 30 years down the road.

All new single family and duplex residential buildings could be fitted with solar panels and electric car charging stations. As an extra measure we could go so far as to prohibit natural gas service to all new single family and duplex residential buildings. Radical changes to be sure, but looking down the road, just 10 years from now when the federal government finally publishes its “net-zero energy ready” building code, Terrace could already have a respectable CO2 emission-free housing stock.

The enabling legislation to make such a move possible is in place. The Local Government Act (sec. 488) allows municipal councils to designate development permit areas in the OCP for the “establishment of objectives to promote energy conservation” and the “establishment of objectives to promote the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.” We could designated the entire municipality as a development permit area and make solar panels and electric car chargers obligatory, and prohibit natural gas service for all new single family and duplex residential developments.

All this would require regulations, e.g. a minimum solar panel generating capacity to building floor area ratio. There would of course be costs associated with these new standards. We cope with market-driven increases in land and building supply costs which result in a higher cost of housing from which we derive neither short nor long term benefits. By contrast, the added costs resulting from the suggested new standards would be compensated to a degree by energy self-sufficiency, and with that to lower utility costs from the outset and for the long term.

Imagine the resale value in 2040 of a house built today, a house equipped with a heat pump, solar panels, and an electric car charger. Now imagine the resale value of the house next door, same age, comparative in every respect except that it is equipped with a gas furnace and hot water tank, and it does not have an electric car charger.