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Utah Climate Week Win: Salt Lake City’s Comprehensive Sustainability Policy Now Includes All-Electric Provisions 

What This Means and Why it is Important for our Air Quality and Climate 

It’s the Sixth Annual Utah Climate Week and we’re bringing you news and tips from around Salt Lake City.

Today, we wanted to highlight an exciting update made in 2022 to Salt Lake City’s internal Comprehensive Sustainability Policy.

This policy was originally put in place in 2017 to cover a wide range of practices affecting Salt Lake City Corporation’s internal operations, standards, and protocols across seven different policies.

Each policy addresses the rules, regulations, and sustainable practices that must be considered and/or implemented while executing City operations that fall within one of the seven following categories: air quality and climate change, chemical reduction, materials management, petroleum storage tanks, property acquisition or sale, sustainable procurement, and water.   

For example, the policy includes things as far-ranging as reducing paper waste and minimizing the use of plastic water bottles, to setting the standard when it comes to how we construct or remodel our municipal buildings.

We are practicing what we preach when it comes to sustainability!

The City’s Comprehensive Sustainability Policy was already significant in requiring that new construction or major renovation projects of City buildings over 10,000 square feet be evaluated for Net Zero Energy and be built to achieve at least LEED Gold. Salt Lake City’s Net Zero Public Safety Building and two Net Zero fire stations (FS 14 and FS 3) were constructed with these high environmental standards.

In 2022, at the urging of Mayor Mendenhall, we took the policy even further to require the evaluation of all-electric provisions for major new construction or renovation.

Specifically, we added an amendment to the Air Quality and Climate Change Policy, section 3.3 entitled “Building Efficiency” — to include all-electric provisions.   

The update provides that: 

all new construction and major renovations of occupied City buildings containing more than ten thousand (10,000) square feet shall be evaluated, and where practicable, designed and constructed for potential to meet: … Use of all-electric technologies in place of combustion fueled technologies

Updating a policy might not seem exciting, but it has impact!

“All-electric” buildings do not have on-site combustion, meaning they produce no local air pollution. Their heating and cooling systems are electric, usually ground- or air-source heat pumps.

This is a significant way to reduce local air pollution, since building emissions are quickly becoming the fastest source of air pollution during our wintertime inversions.

Electrify Everything

As you may have heard if you’ve followed climate policy, the path forward on reducing global emissions in line with what’s needed to bring atmospheric CO2 concentrations back within safe levels, is to “Electrify Everything“. In short this means:

  1. Prioritize energy efficiency
  2. Transition our electricity systems to renewable energy
  3. Electrify everything

(It’s also important to do a host of other things related to building better cities, supporting active and alternative transportation, reducing emissions from other non-energy sources, and supporting healthy, local food. But today we’re focused on energy and infrastructure.)

Salt Lake City is already prioritizing energy efficiency and renewable energy in our buildings and energy system. Adding the third prong of all-electric construction is a significant new piece.

Building all-electric is an important way for Salt Lake City to improve local air quality and to reduce carbon emissions to #ActOnClimate. And it’s important for local government to set the example of what should be done and to start doing it.

We’re excited to see which projects come out of this new policy!

Is it Cleaner?

It may be obvious that choosing energy efficient electric appliances over appliances that use natural gas, heating oil, and other fossil fuel combustion will reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the location of the building, but what about reducing emissions at the site of coal and natural gas plants that fuel the electric grid powering the all-electric building?  Are we really reducing emissions by switching to all-electric infrastructure? Or are we just reducing on-site emissions? 

As we mentioned above, before the all-electric requirement was added, newly constructed or majorly renovated City buildings were required to meet a minimum LEED “Gold” rating and Net Zero Energy emission standards, with on- or off-site renewable energy included to offset emissions associated with energy use.  Now, all three requirements are in place.    

In the case where the all-electric renovations are being powered by renewable energy sources that do not produce air pollution, there will be less CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions overall.  An all-electric building with on-site renewable energy resources that meets 100% of the building’s energy demand will be completely net-zero. 

Nevertheless, because the policy defines all-electric buildings as being highly efficient, an all-electric city building that is not fueled by on-site renewable energy would likely still emit fewer carbon emissions overall compared to city buildings that contain combustion fueled technologies. 

The other exciting news is that we are focused on cleaning up our grid even faster than what is already occurring.

Salt Lake City has partnered with Rocky Mountain Power on several different projects with the goal of procuring more renewable energy resources to support municipal and residential operations, including the purchase of an 80 megawatt solar farm and the development of the Community Renewable Energy Program.  

As we prepare for more off-site renewable energy resources and a cleaner grid, it is important that we transition to more all-electric infrastructure to achieve greater emission reductions. 

To learn more about the City’s renewable energy and emission reduction goals that are supported by the Comprehensive Sustainability Policy, check out our Climate Positive 2040 Plan

If you are interested in electrifying your own home, check out  this blog on how to do just that

Happy Utah Climate Week!

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