What the EPA Clean Power Plan Means for Us

In case you missed it, on Monday the EPA issued its final rule mandating state-by-state carbon emission reductions for power plants that will average 32% nationwide. Many will do all they can to prevent its implementation. But barring successful mischief-making, and since power plants generate 31% of US emissions, the result will be a 10% reduction in United States emissions from the 2005 baseline. That’s a big down payment on climate change. 

Coal power plant
Photo by Arnold Paul

What does this mean for real estate and green building? In short: energy efficiency is here to stay. This issue will no longer rise and fall based on how much a particular governor or mayor cares. Instead, it has been imposed by the Feds. The actual requirement is about power plant emissions, but the most economical compliance path will include efficiency.

Expect increasingly stringent energy codes and major efforts to improve efficiency in existing buildings. For the industry, there will be an opportunity to shape state plans to ensure as much as possible can occur voluntarily or with incentives. Suddenly, it’s also very much in the real estate industry’s commercial interest to ensure state energy efficiency funding is used effectively. Should that money be wasted, it won’t be the voter rich single-family homeowners that the state comes after to make up the difference.

The impact will be different for different states. Each state has its own goal, established by EPA based on their assessment of what is practical and affordable. Also, while some states have increased emissions since 2005, some have decreased them. For instance, New York State will need to reduce its emissions about 10% from a 2012 baseline.

For progressive jurisdictions like New York City, it’s still business as usual from the last decade. Perhaps this will create business opportunities, as the skillsets developed in NYC are increasingly in demand elsewhere. More than ever, it underlines the importance of the work we are doing here. As we figure out how to retrofit at scale and construct low-energy buildings, there is a whole country eager to follow suit.