A reader asks:

With so much development going on around the bay and in the redevelopment areas of the cities, what do you think are the most effective energy policies that government could promote (require) for all new construction?

During the 1960s and early 1970s, California’s energy policy makers were predicting that peak demand would increase so much that eventually, we would have to build new nuclear power plants every 20 miles along the California coast. But a funny thing happened on the way to that vision of our future. When the two major Arab oil embargoes took place, former Governor Jerry Brown’s energy regulators looked at solutions other than new power plants.

In the late 1970s, the new California Energy Commission began developing new construction energy efficiency standards and appliance efficiency standards. In the early 1980s the California Public Utility Commission ordered the utilities to develop and operate ratepayer funded energy efficiency programs. As a result, per capita energy use in California has stayed virtually flat over the last 25 years, while it has doubled throughout most of the rest of the nation.

That said, there’s still a lot more me can do to make our homes and businesses even more energy efficient. Instead of waiting for the Legislature and regulators to adopt stricter energy efficiency standards for homes and companies, SANDAG and its local government members could adopt stronger local new construction standards, if they were willing to buck the real estate development industry, which tends to focus on first costs, instead of what it will cost residents and business owners to operate new buildings over time.

SANDAG and its Energy Working Group should team up with SDG&E and the San Diego Regional Energy Office to help local cities beef up and enforce their existing new construction energy efficiency codes and standards.

Today, developers are building thousands of very large new homes on east Otay Mesa and in the hotter areas of San Diego County. Those buildings should be designed for passive cooling, including thick walls and extra insulation in the ceilings and walls.

Every one of those new homes, and business buildings, should be required by local building codes to include solar photovoltaic shingles on their roofs sufficient to offset all of their air conditioning electric load.

Larger homes and business facilities with larger HVAC loads should also be required to incorporate some type of stored cooling systems to avoid the huge on-peak energy costs of keeping those buildings cool during hot summer months. These building design changes are probably the only way we can keep building new homes and commercial buildings in the hottest areas of the county without substantially increasing the region’s peak energy demand, and increasing the chances of future rolling blackouts.


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