Working Together to Advance Green Building Policy

Solar panels on City of Colwood fire station (Photo: City of Colwood)

Pembina Institute's Green Building Leaders (GBL) Project brings together local and provincial government agencies with REALTORS®, developers, homeowners, utilities, and environmental organizations with interests in green building and energy use. The goal: to improve performance of new and existing buildings.

As mentioned in our recent blog post, Pembina is at the forefront in this arena in BC and elsewhere in Canada. Through the BC-wide GBL Project, they are:

  • Networking local governments that want to be involved in progressive work on energy efficiency and renewable energy in their communities;
  • Advancing cutting-edge policy; and
  • Sharing and leveraging learning to help partner communities further their knowledge, policies and practices in the green building arena.

Early in the project, Pembina's research showed that local government jurisdiction is limited when it comes to creating strong green building policies; they need enabling provincial legislation to allow them to demonstrate their leadership. Through the GBL Project, Pembina has focused on ways that local governments can help the provincial government implement new provincial policies or revise local government jurisdiction.

Starting out with an initial 12 “Green Building Leader” communities, the network now includes over 20 through its learning and sharing reports, presentations and webinars. Pembina has been working with municipalities and regional districts in central and northern BC, Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland/Sea-to-Sky region on a variety of projects to help research and test leading building efficiency policy ideas.

Many of these ideas require permission from the Provincial Government to implement, so the Green Building Leaders have been working on finding creative ways for the Province to support this innovation at the local government level. One mechanism is the opt-in regulation which would allow interested local governments to exceed the current Building Code and implement the new policy ideas, but in a standardized way. The standard level of performance regulated provincially still exists, but through "opt-ins," local governments are allowed to do more. It's currently the one of the best ways to advance policy and practice in BC communities, aside from changes to the Building Code.

Some of Pembina's and its GBL partners' accomplishments to date include:

  • Designed and evaluated a policy for a minimum renewable energy requirement for new buildings in BC, recommending that 10% of building's energy must be met by building or community-scale renewables such as solar hot water or sewer heat recovery. This led to a 2011 UBCM resolution calling for an opt-in renewable energy requirement to be implemented. Additional opt-in regulations for buildings that could be implemented include district-energy-ready and electric-vehicle-ready. (A solar-hot-water-ready regulation exists and 48 local governments have signed on.)
  • Assessed various financing programs to help improve building energy efficiency and uptake of renewable energy solutions. Worked with provincial ministries, utilities and local governments to provide recommendations on a provincial on-bill financing pilot, which is being offered on Vancouver Island and in the Okanagan-Similkameen region. (This means a homeowner makes energy efficiency improvements and pays off the loan via their utility bill.)
  • Submitted comments to the Province on the BC Building Code's new energy performance regulations, the provincial financing program and carbon pricing. This spring, the BC government passed energy performance amendments to the BC Building Code that will improve single-family residential and multi-family, commercial and other large buildings’ energy performance; they go into effect December 2013 and December 2014.
  • At this time, the GBL Project is working on mandatory energy labeling for homes. Pembina has designed the initial program; held three stakeholder workshops to get feedback on the initial design; created a Home Energy Labeling report and webinar; and drafted a model bylaw for implementing labeling for new homes.

The GBL Project is demonstrating the value of working together – to research problems; develop and share solutions; and advocate for policy that supports greenhouse gas reductions, building energy efficiency and local resilience in communities across BC.