Public Comment

Story in San Francisco Chronicle Regarding Climate Action Plan

By Phil Kamlarz
Thursday April 23, 2009 - 07:19:00 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the complete text of the city manager's letter to the City Council regarding the San Francisco Chronicle's article about the Climate Action Plan. 


April 20, 2009 

To: Honorable Mayor and Members of the City Council 

From: Phil Kamlarz, City Manager 

Subject: Story in San Francisco Chronicle Regarding Climate Action Plan 


The focus of a San Francisco Chronicle story this past Saturday (“Hot debate ahead on Berkeley’s energy plans”) is a single section of the draft Berkeley Climate Action Plan (CAP) devoted to building energy efficiency. The Council will be discussing the Plan in its entirety at its meeting tomorrow night.  

In 2006, Measure G set a goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. The purpose of the draft Climate Action Plan is to serve as a guide for setting the community on a path to achieve that goal. Among many GHG reduction strategies, the draft Plan recommends strategies for improving energy efficiency in existing Berkeley homes (see p. 49, Goal #2). Energy use in residential buildings accounts for about 25 percent of Berkeley’s community-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To ensure that Berkeley stays on course to achieve the 80 percent GHG reduction target established by Measure G, the draft CAP recommends an interim target of a 35 percent reduction by 2020. Improving energy efficiency in buildings is essential to achieving that target. Unfortunately, the newspaper story mischaracterized some of the ideas set forth in the Plan as possible ways to meet that goal. 

Adoption of the CAP will set goals and identify the types of actions necessary to meet those goals. The Plan makes no requirements or mandates on its own. The recommendations included in it require Council approval separate from the CAP’s adoption. No specific set of improvements are currently proposed, and will not be until there is an opportunity for extensive public involvement.  

Since 1989, Berkeley has required energy audits and energy improvements in residential buildings at time of sale and when extensive renovation or remodeling occurs. The current ordinance has a limit on expenditures at 0.75% of a home’s sale price. The draft CAP recommends enhancing the requirements in order to further improve energy efficiency. The CAP recommends collaborating with local energy service providers, community stakeholders, and local governments in the region to establish an energy standard that would apply to existing residential buildings (p. 51, first bullet). The standard would target a certain level of home energy efficiency and would provide guidance on applying a consistent and thorough approach to analyzing home energy use and making energy efficiency improvements.  

In 2013, staff will evaluate the community’s progress toward its GHG reduction goal consistent with Measure G and, based on that progress, staff could potentially recommend that the City Council adopt requirements for all homes to have an energy audit to identify the most cost-effective energy efficiency improvements. Subsequently, if the audit requirements do not result in voluntary improvements over time, the Council could consider other options. Whatever measures are considered must result in substantial reductions in costs related to gas and electricity usage. Cost-effectiveness and the availability of incentives and financing will be key criteria. Any suggested requirements would be subject to substantial public review and comment, as well as in-depth consideration by the City Council and appropriate City Commissions. 

The article mischaracterized the recommendations in the CAP in several ways, including: 

1. The article implies that the City will force residents to comply with energy standards “in the next few years.” This is not accurate. Rather, the CAP states that energy standards need to be developed through a collaborative process with the community and subject ultimately, to the City Council’s review and consideration.  

2. The article states that in many cases, compliance with the City’s energy standard would require new double-paned windows, insulation, a new white roof that reflects heat, a forced air furnace, and high-efficiency appliances. This is misleading. While staff may recommend some types of cost-effective energy efficiency improvements, those will not include replacement of roofs or single pane windows that are not otherwise being replaced, as that would be not a cost-effective improvement.  

3. The article states that all homes will be mandated to pay upwards of $33,800 to meet the City’s energy standards. This is false. Moreover this assertion contradicts one of the fundamental goals of the CAP — to lower the cost of energy upgrades in homes and businesses. 

4. The article states that within a few years, the City will start imposing penalties for those who do not meet the energy standard. This is again inaccurate. The CAP offers a series of options that the City could use to achieve compliance with a local energy standard. The CAP does not recommend imposing penalties; rather, the CAP emphasizes the need for incentives to encourage the installation of these types of improvements.  

Berkeley has established an ambitious goal by way of the approval of Measure G. That goal will require not only investment in the energy efficiency of our building stock, but also improving access to public transportation, increasing reliance on renewable energy sources, meeting our Zero Waste goals, and developing a robust network of local food producers. Energy efficiency in buildings is a part of the overall solution to the challenges presented by climate change.