Bellingham Climate Task Force Update

December 10, 2019

The Bellingham Climate Action Task Force presented its final report to the Bellingham City Council on Monday, December 9, 2019. The report in its entirety, is RIGHT HERE.

All buildings (including commercial) must meet the following:

-Buildings will be subject to an energy audit.  The operative year is 1990; buildings constructed before 1990 (>50% of Bellingham homes) must have an energy audit and weatherization retrofit to meet certain efficiency standards.  Must be completed prior to “electrification of the building.”

At the time of replacement (break down, obsolescence, etc.), space and water heating must be electrified.  In any event, all buildings must be electrified by 2040.  This will not apply to gas stoves and fireplaces.

-Buildings must have 50% of building footprint (or on-site equivalent), buy into community solar projects at an amount equal to installing 50% solar, or participate in a Green Energy program in an equal amount.  Each building is required to pick one of these options by 2035.

 

We all agree that efficiency in the use of energy is an important goal. We acknowledge that there are ecological effects resulting from fossil fuel use and that we need to work to minimize the impact that use has on our climate. We also acknowledge that energy efficiency is a large component of affordable housing and that reasonable steps households can take to lower energy costs are very desirable.

The Council’s Resolution required an analysis of feasibility, costs, and impacts of the 100% renewable energy ambitions; that did not happen in this report. After reading the report, it is clear that more analysis is not only recommended by the Task Force, it is warranted.  Financial impacts are not fully discussed and, where financial information is provided, it is very incomplete. We need to know the reasonable anticipated costs and returns on recommended actions.

We need to know the impacts on housing affordability and on marginalized communities within our city.  (The City of Bellingham acknowledges that many in our community (a significant number of rental households (55%) are cost burdened or severely cost burdened in their households; 28% overall of homeowners are cost burdened in their housing) (Additional additional financial burdens to these households is precarious at best).

The report relies significantly on rebates and incentives provided by the City without identifying the funding sources for such rebate/incentive programs.  This aspect, which is crucial to the success of the City’s goals, needs to be secured before imposing mandates on city residents.

While there was limited public input during the Task Force process, such a significant shift in our City, a shift implicating housing, economics, zoning, construction, transportation, and other community-wide implications, must be subjected to a rigorous public process with ample opportunity to hear the concerns of everyone impacted by the recommendations.

In Conclusion:

As you can likely figure, this could have the potential to effectively wipe out any hope of affordable housing in our community within a short period of time.  Adding tens of thousands of dollars to a buyer’s purchase of a home translates into entry level homes far out of reach for most first time buyers.  And, rents will undoubtedly increase as landlords pass on the costs of retrofitting to the tenants.  Finally, if you reside outside the city of Bellingham anywhere in Whatcom County and think this can’t impact you, think again.  The newly elected Whatcom County Executive has publicly stated that if the City of Bellingham adopts these requirements, he will push to make them a county wide mandate.

Most of us have concerns about our environment and are willing to change our consumption behavior in order to facilitate good stewardship of the planet.  But the vast majority of environmentally minded people are looking to take a measured approach to mitigating our impact on climate change – not sweeping government mandated change that is so financially burdensome all at once.