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Buildings contribute the most to climate change. Here are some potential solutions.

Converging Topic: Climate Change + Sustainability icon

In the final installment of our Converging Topic focus on local climate change and sustainability, we’re looking at the largest contributor to local greenhouse gas emissions: Buildings. 

The majority of greenhouse gas emissions locally come from residential and commercial buildings, 56%, according to the Raleigh Community Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP).

It’s also the largest opportunity to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, the plan says. While local control is limited, there are new solutions being explored in other cities in NC and ideas presented in the local plan.

Local energy sources: Currently, our local building energy largely comes from electricity from Duke Energy’s grid and fossil fuels, such as natural gas. 

The CCAP says reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a supply and demand strategy. Relying less on fossil fuels will mean fewer carbon emissions (supply). Buildings that require less energy will also make an impact (demand). 

But Raleigh can’t set green energy standards for buildings that are stricter than the state’s. 

“Municipalities can make certain provisions by way of local ordinance to the fire code and in some things related to flood damage prevention,” Marla Sink, spokesperson for the NC Department of Insurance, told Raleigh Convergence in an email. “Anything else must be done as a proposed code amendment to the State Building Code.”

Energy use is also an equity issue. The CCAP notes that 8-13% of Wake County renters make less than federal poverty designations. Those neighbors are more likely to live in homes that are less energy efficient and spend 18-33% of their income on energy each year. 

So what can be done? Raleigh City Council Member David Knight, who is also an environmental lobbyist, consultant and attorney, mentioned two projects by North Carolina cities Charlotte and Asheville. 

In 2020, the city of Charlotte announced a solar energy project that leaders hope will offset 25% of carbon emissions of city-owned buildings over the next 20 years. Asheville and Buncombe County also invested in solar projects that will be completed in 2022, the Citizen Times reports, for public building’s energy use. 

The CCAP also suggested community solar projects, though not a funding source: “Community solar projects offer an opportunity to purchase renewable energy from the grid supplied by smaller installations. 

These projects could be installed on vacant properties, underutilized spaces, or available open space—such as the Wilders Grove Landfill. The costs of these installations are high, but they are shared by the program participants or subsidized. 

In the current model of such programs available in North Carolina, community solar projects could be developed for affordable housing units; however, a funding mechanism would have to be identified or created to support them.”

What’s being done now: A full list of action steps specifically for buildings and energy begins on Page 47 of the CCAP

Some of those steps in early phases include creating a toolkit for businesses and raising awareness of existing programs by Duke Energy and the Green Raleigh Review, which reimburses express review fees among other perks.

Council member David Knight mentioned moves by the city council on issues holistically related to climate change, even if not categorically in building energy: considering incentives for equitable development around transit, not requiring as much car parking, setting restrictions on development on the floodplain to adapt to climate change. 

“Local government is where we can make the biggest differences in how we live and how society moves forward in a sustainable way,” he said.

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Author: raleighconvergence

Sarah Day Owen Wiskirchen is the editor of Raleigh Convergence.

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