Incentives for developers of new construction in San Mateo to electrify their buildings, requirements for solar panel installation and expanding the capacity of parking spaces to charge electric vehicles are among the measures city officials have been considering in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Because cities can propose ordinances more stringent than California’s Energy and Green Building codes, the proposed measures up for review in recent months are dubbed “reach codes.” Andrea Chow, the city’s sustainability analyst, said the city adopted reach codes in 2016 when the state’s codes were last updated, and opted to explore rules regarding electrification of buildings, solar panels and electric vehicle charging readiness during the 2019 building code cycle.

With support from the California Statewide Codes and Standards Program and Peninsula Clean Energy, city officials have been able to scope the cost effectiveness of strategies to encourage those taking on new building projects to reduce their use of natural gas as well as make driving an electric vehicle more feasible in San Mateo.

“Local jurisdictions really have this opportunity to go above and beyond,” she said. “We really just want to reduce greenhouse gases from our building sector from new developments.”

Chow said the Sustainability and Infrastructure Commission reviewed the preliminary findings of cost-effectiveness studies at its April 10 meeting, and proposed reach codes went up for review at the City Council’s June 3 study session as well as the commission’s June 12 meeting.

Among the ordinances slated for review at the City Council’s Aug. 19 meeting is the creation of two options for builders of new construction to reduce natural gas consumption within their developments. By either building an all-electric structure at the minimum efficiency required by the state’s energy code or designing a mixed-fuel building using natural gas and electricity at a higher efficiency level, developers can meet the proposed reach code for electrification, according to a staff report.

For single-family and duplex projects, builders can either construct all-electric buildings or design a mixed-fuel building 15% above the state code’s energy efficiency requirement, which officials estimate could save builders $5,300 in construction costs as compared to a mixed-fuel home since natural gas infrastructure is not required. An all-electric design for homes is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% to 50% in most cases as compared to a mixed-fuel design, according to the report.

Chow confirmed accessory dwelling units, also called secondary units as well as “granny” or “in-law” units, will be exempt from the proposed requirement.

Office buildings

For office buildings, the proposed ordinance would require builders to design an all-electric building or a mixed-fuel development 10% above the state code’s energy efficiency requirement, which could involve using windows less prone to heat, natural sunlight and occupancy sensors. An all-electric office building designed to meet the 2019 state code is estimated to cost $57,300 less to construct compared to a comparable mixed-fuel building, according to the report.

Chow explained the city adopted a reach code in 2016 requiring all new construction to install a minimum-size solar panel or solar thermal equipment and, in 2019, the state code will require all residential projects three stories or fewer to install solar panels. To maintain the city’s previous requirement, officials will consider continuing the solar panel requirement for multi-family and non-residential structures, she said.

Also up for review is a requirement for developers to provide a higher number of electric vehicle capable parking spaces — meaning the spot is equipped with an electrical panel and a conduit connecting the panel and the charging space — than what is required by the state for new construction projects.

Though staff is not proposing more than the one electric vehicle capable space required by the state for single-family homes and duplexes, San Mateo officials will consider requiring 15% of parking spaces in multi-family developments to be electric vehicle capable, and 15% of parking spots at non-residential projects to be EV capable, according to the report.

Peninsula Clean Energy support

Because the installation of electric vehicle supply equipment, or EVSE, is estimated to cost roughly $4,000 per parking space, staff is not recommending EVSE installation in multi-family residential projects out of concern it could increase the cost of housing development. The proposed reach code would require 5% of parking spaces at non-residential projects to have EVSE installed, according to the report.

In a study of the costs for a 45-unit multi-family building with 94 parking spaces, a consultant hired by Peninsula Clean Energy estimated each additional electric vehicle capable space needed to meet the proposed reach code would cost some $1,350, according to the report.

Rafael Reyes, director of energy programs for Peninsula Clean Energy and a member of the Sustainability and Infrastructure Commission, noted San Mateo has taken on a leadership role among San Mateo County cities for adopting reach codes in the 2016 building codes cycle, and said a growing number of cities in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties have since started exploring them.

In partnership with the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability and Silicon Valley Clean Energy, Peninsula Clean Energy has provided technical assistance to cities and counties in crafting reach codes as well as a $10,000 incentive in support of their proposing requirements to city officials, said Reyes. He said Brisbane, Burlingame, Menlo Park, Millbrae, Portola Valley, Redwood City and San Mateo are among the cities in San Mateo County that have taken steps toward reach codes in this year’s building codes cycle.

“We’re really excited about this opportunity because there’s an opportunity here to create homes and buildings that are less expensive,” he said, adding there is a lot of potential for economic savings stemming from expanded electric vehicle charging capability in San Mateo County, where interest in buying them is high. “There’s huge demand there and we’re expecting that demand to grow significantly.”

Reyes noted electric vehicles in particular create economic opportunities for drivers since they can result in fuel savings of $1,200 to $1,500 annually. He added Peninsula Clean Energy’s goal of 45,000 vehicles in San Mateo County meeting the state’s electric vehicle targets by 2025 is estimated to result in $50 million in reduced fuel costs annually.

Chow said if the proposed codes are adopted by the City Council in August and later this year by the California Energy Commission, they will go into effect Jan. 1.

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