New report: Repowering Colorado’s buildings could be like taking 1.7 million cars off the road, reduce indoor air pollution

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Colorado has the ability to make a big cut to health-damaging fossil fuel use in homes and offices

CoPIRG Foundation, Environment Colorado Research and Policy Center, Frontier Group

DENVER – Colorado could see a big and critical reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and gas usage if it phases out fossil fuel use in all of its buildings during the next 30 years, according to a new report released today by Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center, CoPIRG Foundation and Frontier Group. The study, Electric Buildings: Repowering Homes and Businesses for Our Health and Environment, found that completely repowering Colorado’s homes and businesses with electricity by 2050 is expected to result in net emissions reductions of 8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide – equal to taking 1.7 million passenger vehicles off the road – and reductions in pipeline gas usage equal to 170.7 billion cubic feet. It can also reduce indoor air pollution in homes and businesses. 

At a time when the Colorado General Assembly is considering moving electric building policies forward, the report outlines how overcoming key barriers standing in the way of widespread building electrification can improve public health and play a key role in fighting climate change.

“Coloradans deserve to know that the systems that keep us warm, provide us with hot water and run our appliances aren’t producing dangerous emissions that threaten our safety both inside and outside of our homes,” said Danny Katz, executive director with CoPIRG Foundation. “The possibilities we see in Colorado should give us the hope and motivation we need to kickstart the movement towards 100 percent clean, electric buildings.” 

An RMI study examined the costs of incorporating electric technologies in new buildings in seven cities (Austin, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; Columbus, Ohio; Denver, Colorado; New York City, New York; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Seattle, Washington) and found that in every city, installing electric technologies in new construction saved consumers money over installing gas or oil systems. RMI found that in every city studied, heat pump installation reduced lifetime costs for consumers in new construction compared to similar new construction using gas infrastructure. In these new construction scenarios, consumers opting for heat pump installation over fossil fuel heating methods could save between $1,600 and $6,800 in net-present cost for space and water heating over a 15-year period.

“Upgrading Colorado’s buildings to run fully on clean electricity will be an important step in addressing climate change and improving our air quality,” said Mike Henchen, Principal with Rocky Mountain Institute focused on their Carbon-Free Buildings program. “Especially as we see continued growth and new housing construction along the Front Range, we have an opportunity to build a modern housing stock that is healthy, comfortable, and saves Coloradans money on gas equipment that won’t be needed in a carbon-free future.”

Along with state-specific data, the study identifies the national benefits from banning fossil fuels in homes and businesses. Electrifying a majority of America’s buildings by 2050 could reduce net emissions from the residential and commercial sectors by 306 million metric tons, which is equivalent to taking about 65 million cars off the road.

Electric Buildings also highlights the role such electric technologies as heat pumps, water heaters and induction stoves can play as the country moves away from fossil fuels. Advances in electrifying these goods have made them more efficient and affordable. This means that using fully electric systems in homes and commercial buildings now makes sense for owners in almost all instances of new construction. 

“Last century, many families saw their quality of life improve when they switched from a coal-burning stove to an electric or gas range, or an icebox to an electric refrigerator,” Katz said. “Today, a similar technological revolution is underway to replace fossil fuel heating and cooking with electric technologies. Current electric heat pumps offer better indoor climate control and lower operating costs than gas furnaces and the sooner America makes the switch, the sooner we’ll realize the benefits of cleaner and more efficient energy.”

The full report can be found here.