Submitted by Thurston Climate Action Team

On Tuesday, January 11, the Olympia City Council unanimously passed a resolution that will accelerate the transition to all-electric buildings throughout the city. The resolution document starts out, “WHEREAS, climate change is an existential crisis posing one of the most serious threats to the existence of humanity and all species on the planet; a threat that intersects and compounds all other crises facing humanity and our earth”.

Upon citing the reasons electrification is needed, the actions resulting from the resolution look to foster the electrification of City‐owned buildings as well as buildings projects that receive City funding.  There will also be an inventory of City‐owned facilities that use fossil fuels and evaluate the feasibility of retrofitting existing buildings to become all‐electric by 2030.

Furthermore, the resolution reads “The City of Olympia will encourage the State Legislature and State Building Code Council, and other local entities, such as Thurston County, neighboring cities, school districts, and major institutions, to join in this step to address regional greenhouse emissions from our built environment, by adopting similar building electrification policies to invest in clean energy assets.”  The City Council will hold a work session no later than April 1, 2022, to discuss policy pathways and potential challenges to citywide electrification of all new buildings.

Momentum for clean and healthy buildings builds across the Northwest

Cities and counties in Washington have clear legal authority to impose these regulations on new commercial and large multifamily buildings through their commercial energy codes. As momentum builds behind the nationwide building electrification movement, several more of these policies are in progress among local governments throughout Washington and Oregon. Among the jurisdictions across the state that have already passed ordinances or are working towards ordinances to combat the effects of climate change include Seattle, Tacoma, Shoreline, Bellingham, and King County. For example, both Shoreline and Seattle passed ordinances requiring high-efficiency electric equipment (heat pumps) for space and water heating in new commercial buildings.

Environmental advocacy groups Thurston Climate Action Team (TCAT) and Climate Solutions, applaud Olympia’s action and are encouraging more cities in Washington to use this policy tool to effectively reduce emissions, support their climate goals, and promote cleaner, healthier environments for residents.

“Climate change effects such as wildfires and extreme weather are already creating havoc, and there’s no time to waste. Thank you to the Olympia City Councilmembers for taking the next step towards helping future Olympians have a sustainable future,” said Melinda Hughes, TCAT’s Executive Director.

“This is a great first step towards climate action, and we look forward to future complementary policies that promote clean, safe, resilient, all-electric buildings in Olympia,” said Deepa Sivarajan policy manager with Climate Solutions.

Taking action on gas prioritizes cleaner air and public health

Burning fossil fuels in buildings accounts for almost one quarter of Washington state’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the 2021 State Energy Strategy. While emissions from electricity and transportation are declining, emissions from buildings in Washington have continued to grow. In fact, building emissions are growing at the fastest rate of any sector in the state. Using gas, propane, and wood in homes and businesses also creates indoor air pollution that exacerbates risk of respiratory disease and existing respiratory conditions. A 2013 study found that growing up in a home that used gas stoves led to a 42-percent increase in a child’s risk of developing asthma symptoms.

Additionally, both Washington and Oregon have now passed 100% clean energy laws putting the Northwest on a pathway to getting fossil fuels out of the electricity grid, transitioning fully off coal and gas for power generation. Putting this clean, low-cost electricity to work in buildings is a huge climate win. Using all-electric appliances and systems in buildings eliminates these hazards and costs less to construct and operate. And building all-electric eliminates the costs of hooking up new buildings to gas lines.

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