Submitted by Thurston Climate Action Team
In a business meeting on Tuesday, January 18, the Olympia City Council finalized the resolution they passed by unanimous vote on January 11 to accelerate the transition of building throughout the city to all-electric power and heat. The resolution acknowledges the severity of the climate crisis stating, “climate change is an existential crisis posing one of the most serious threats to the existence of humanity.” The resolution goes on to address the growing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from the building sector statewide and the needed reductions required to meet the goals set forth in the Thurston Climate Mitigation Plan, passed in January of last year.
To address the role of built environments in the growing climate crisis, and to meet city targets, Council hopes to encourage electrification of City‐owned buildings as well as building projects that receive City funding. The resolution also sets in motion an inventory and feasibility study regarding potential retrofits of City‐owned facilities that currently use fossil fuels. This policy goes into effect on April st of this year.
Olympia is now the third city in western Washington to create and pass a policy on building electrification in recent months. Shoreline and Bellingham legislated their own policies pertaining to the transition of the building sector to renewable energy this Fall. This wave of electrification policy making is part of a growing trend towards regulating new commercial and large multifamily buildings through commercial energy codes. As momentum builds behind the nationwide building electrification movement, several more of these policies are in progress among local governments throughout the Pacific Northwest including Seattle, Tacoma, King County, Eugene, and Multnomah County.
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.
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.
“Olympia will not be able to achieve its pledge of reaching net-zero emissions by 2040 without electrifying buildings and substantially reducing our dependence on fossil gas, said Dr. Pamela Braff, Olympia’s Climate Program Manager. “Recognizing the importance of this transition, Olympia City Council has committed to electrifying all new city-owned buildings and will begin discussing the pathways and potential challenges to electrifying all new buildings city-wide.”
Upon the passing of the resolution, Councilmember Lisa Parshley reflected, “Tonight is one of those nights where I’ll go home and think about what we accomplished, and think to myself, ‘This is why I wanted this job.’ I’m proud of my colleagues tonight, and especially thankful for and proud of the city staff who worked so hard on this. We are making it crystal clear, with this resolution, that we take climate change seriously. By declaring a state of emergency, we acknowledge our obligation to act swiftly to address this crisis. The last few weeks of weather brought it right to us, into our homes and businesses. We are running out of road to kick the can down and running out of excuses as to why we can’t do something bold. Tonight was the first step toward honoring our stated climate goals and affirms our role as a city in making the Thurston County Climate Mitigation Plan a success.”