Last night, the Santa Monica City Council adopted two policies that will drastically reduce the carbon footprint of new construction projects and facilitate EV adoption in Santa Monica beginning January 1, 2023. The Zero Emission Building Code requires new buildings to be all-electric. The EV Charger Reach Code, an amendment to the state Green Building Code known as CALGreen, requires that new projects increase the number of EV charging spaces to help ensure that EV drivers have a spot to plug in, particularly in new multifamily buildings.

The two codes build upon existing City codes and advancement in the 2022 California Energy Code and CALGreen to encourage all-electric buildings and increase EV charging access, respectively. Both concepts were initially adopted as part of Santa Monica’s Climate Action & Adaptation Plan, which aims to reduce the City’s carbon emissions by 80% by 2030.

“This is a critical step to help decarbonize the building and transportation sectors in Santa Monica,” said Chief Sustainability Officer Shannon Parry. “Ensuring that all new buildings are not burning natural gas and provide EV charging infrastructure are cost-effective strategies to improve environmental and public health while also helping prevent the need for future costly retrofits.”

Buildings account for over 30% of the City’s carbon emissions, primarily from burning natural gas for space and water heating. Most buildings in Santa Monica receive 100% clean power through the Clean Power Alliance, which makes all-electric buildings even more sustainable.

Santa Monica joins a growing list of 46 California cities that require all-electric buildings. Similar legislation has passed in New York City, Seattle, Quebec, and entire countries, including Germany, France, the UK, Denmark, Austria, Ireland, and the Netherlands. Just this month, the California Public Utilities Commission voted to end natural gas line subsidies for new natural gas hookups in a move to accelerate building electrification, reduce the risk of stranded assets, and save ratepayer funding.

Building electrification refers to the substitution of traditional gas appliances (furnaces, water heaters, cooking ranges, dryers), with clean, safe, and efficient electric alternatives such as heat pump hot water heaters and induction cooktops.

Why require all-electric buildings?

Health: Electric appliances reduce indoor and outdoor air pollution. Burning gas for heating and cooking produces harmful indoor air pollution, which has been tied to increased risk of respiratory disease.

Safety: All-electric buildings avoid risk of gas leaks or explosions, particularly in earthquake-prone areas, because there is no gas line connected the building. Environment: Methane (natural gas) is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Eliminating gas combustion is critical to reaching the City’s carbon neutrality goal.

Cost Savings: All-electric buildings have one less utility, meaning no design or installation of gas piping or the ventilation that comes with gas appliances, which reduces capital costs.

Resilience: When paired with solar and battery storage, all-electric buildings can be self-sufficient and avoid potential power outages.  

Comfort and efficiency: Electric appliances for heating and cooling are much more efficient and easier to control than gas heaters and furnaces, creating more comfortable indoor air temperatures. Heat pump hot water heaters are over 300% more efficient than gas hot water heaters.

Why require more EV charging spaces?

The transportation sector is responsible for 65% of the City’s greenhouse gas emissions. EV adoption is increasing every year and the State aims to have 5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030. Per state law, all new cars sold must be zero-emission vehicles beginning in 2035.

Most of the buildings built in and after 2023 will continue to exist in 2035, and these EVs will need a place to charge. The City has more than 150 public chargers and is actively expanding the public charging network, but significant increases in residential and non-residential projects are necessary to meet the current and future demand for charging.

Requiring EV charging infrastructure during the construction process is estimated to be three to fives times less expensive than retrofitting a parking spot in an existing building to add a charger. In multifamily buildings (apartments and condos with three or more units), it can be particularly expensive to add chargers due to panel upgrades and parking configurations that are not conducive to adding charging equipment.

The new EV Charger Require Code requires that 60% of the parking spaces in multifamily buildings be EV Ready – meaning the conduit and outlets are in place and no permit is required to simply add the charging unit. In addition, 5% of the spaces must have EV chargers installed during construction and an additional 10% of the parking spaces must have electrical capacity to serve future charging stations.

The City offers rebates to support the switch to electric appliances and to add EV chargers in existing buildings through the Electrify Santa Monica Rebate Program.

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Submitted by Constance Farrell, Communications and Public Information Manager