The NRDC Action Fund is driving climate action in cities across the country through The American Cities Climate Challenge. This post is written by Maria Stamas.
Honolulu’s City Council has a choice to make this month. Will it adopt forward-looking requirements for builders, giving residents access to clean, affordable energy in buildings that reflect Hawai‘i’s culture and climate—and also help this vulnerable island state meet its climate goals?
Up for consideration is the city’s building code, which passed unanimously out of the Zoning, Planning, and Housing Committee the last week of February with a few concessions.
Building codes set basic requirements for builders and developers as they create new homes and buildings. Those buildings will then often last for at least fifty years. Honolulu’s administration would like to save energy by bringing its code into line with the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code, a model code recently adopted by the state. Honolulu is also proposing to add some specific local amendments to get the city ready for a clean-energy future.
Read on for more info. Please act today.You can help get a strong Bill 25 over the finish line – a bill that includes reducing building energy use (and energy costs!), allowing residents to harness the power of the sun with solar-ready rooftops, and enabling charging for electric vehicles. To help, express your support to the City Council here – or call your Councilmember – and please show up if you can at City Council when the bill is likely to be heard at the full City Council meeting, on Wednesday, March 18.
A Future that Gets it Right the First Time
The draft ordinance up for adoption by the full City Council is not only climate-friendly, but commonsense. It will protect residents from being stuck with higher energy and maintenance costs year after year; ensure new homes have the wiring to make it easy and affordable for homeowners to add solar panels; and support the growing adoption of electric vehicles. The proposed amendments should also create significant island-wide benefits in the form of new jobs and cleaner air.
The requirements proposed, though important, are just a first step if Hawai’i is to meet its ambitious climate goals.
As an island state, if Hawai‘i uses fossil fuels to meet its energy needs, it must import every drop of oil and liquified natural gas. Importing oil across thousands of miles costs more on many levels: the infrastructure needed, the operating costs, the high carbon intensity of the fuel and its infrastructure, the high risks of spills, and the associated pollution.
But there’s another way. Energy-efficient appliances, such as air conditioning; water heated by solar power; and renewably supplied electric vehicles are not only cheaper to run, but they avoid the health and safety consequences of fossil fuel alternatives and the need for costly imports.
Three Updated Features for New Homes and Buildings
Structures Reflective of Honolulu’s Tropical Climate
Bill 25 would provide the option for developers to create naturally cooled homes and buildings and uses a point system that rewards efficient appliances, large lanais, and compact homes. This would encourage the use of simple building measures like fans, additional window glazing, and shaded reflective walls.
The best part? These improvements would cut residents’ utility energy bills in half.
Solar-powered Water Heating, For Real
This new code would also require developers to install the basic wiring needed for homeowners to take full advantage of O‘ahu’s abundant sunshine by installing solar photovoltaic (PV) panels.
The PV wiring builds on a state law requiring solar hot water heaters in most newly constructed single-family homes. While the state has required this for over a decade, a loophole has made the requirement functionally moot. However, recent court cases and a renewed effort by the state’s Energy Office will be making good on the law’s intent that variances “will be rarely, if ever, exercised or granted.”
Together, these provisions mean residents could expect to avoid the equivalent of 26 - 47 barrels of imported oil and save between $4,200 and $8,800 over a typical water heater lifetime of 15 years.
Access to Electric Vehicle Charging
Honolulu residents are more than ready for electric vehicles, with O‘ahu seeing among the highest take-up rates of electric vehicles (EVs) across the United States. By 2030, the City anticipates 22,000 EVs on its streets. But residents, especially renters, can’t do it all themselves—their housing infrastructure needs to support vehicle charging.
Honolulu’s updated building code would provide this much-needed support by requiring businesses and some homes to support the transition to clean EVs:
- Developers of some new single-family homes would be required to install EV-capable Level 2 charging—requiring installation of wiring and an electrical panel that can support Level 2 charging, which is a 240-volt outlet that can supply a 100-mile range in 4 hours.
- Multifamily and commercial properties would have to provide 25 percent of their parking stalls with EV-ready Level 2 charging, although the specific percentage would be determined by a point system, offering further flexibility to developers.
- Multifamily housing designed for residents making 100 percent of area median income or less would be exempt from receiving electric vehicle charging.
Why now? Because getting electric vehicle infrastructure right the first time is critical. The cost of rehabbing buildings and parking infrastructure for EVs is far higher than designing it in from the start.
Multiple studies have found that the avoided cost associated with requiring new construction to be EV-ready is $2,000 to $5,000 per parking space. With Honolulu’s new code, developer will experience avoided costs of between $1.4 million to $3.4 million with EV-readiness in new construction mandates; homeowners and renters will also share the benefits of those avoided costs.
Getting Bill 25 Over the Finish Line
Honolulu has committed to meeting its energy needs with 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. Given that new housing and building infrastructure lasts over 50 years, the time to start setting more ambitious guidelines for new construction was 25 years ago—but 2020 will suffice. With rising seas, a worsening hurricane season, struggling coral reefs, and varying supplies of drinking water, the state is already feeling the effects of climate change.
Residents want action. Over 74 percent of O’ahu residents support building codes that include energy efficiency, solar hot water heating, and EV charging, even if they cost more up front but result in lower energy bills, according to a 2019 public opinion poll.
Thankfully, Hawai‘i is naturally poised with abundant sunshine to make these solutions a no-brainer. Plus, passing Bill 25 is a critical step to help Honolulu meet its climate goals.
Interested in helping Bill 25 over the finish line? Express your support to City Council here and show up at City Council when the bill is slated to be heard, likely on March 18.