The Senate Energy Utilities & Communication Committee passed legislation to slash the carbon intensity of new construction building materials and require workers who install solar panels on large rooftops to receive the prevailing wage.
AB 2446 by Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) requires the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to develop a framework for measuring and reducing the carbon intensity of new construction materials and slash its net emissions 80% below 2020 levels by 2045. Cutting carbon emissions produced by manufacturing, transporting, installing, maintaining, and disposing of building materials, known as embedded carbon, is necesary to reach the state’s decarbonization goals, Holden and bill supporters said.
AB 2446 “supports the dream of home ownership, but does not retreat from the state’s climate goals,” Holden told the committee during the June 15 hearing. His bill also sets interim carbon intensity reduction targets for building materials at 20% below 2020 levels by 2030 and 40% below 2020 levels by 2035.
Residential and commercial buildings in California accounted for 10.5% of the state’s total emissions last year, according to CARB’s greenhouse gas emissions inventory. The exact breakdown between embedded and operating emissions from buildings, such as use of fossil fuel heaters, stoves and other appliances, is unknown. However, because of California’s mild climate, rising levels of renewable electricity, and fairly efficient building stock, “operational emissions may be a smaller percentage of total building energy use, compared to the embodied carbon in new construction,” the committee bill analysis concludes.
In late September, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the first bill in the nation that focuses on cutting greenhouse gas emissions from cement, which holds concrete together and is widely used in construction. The legislation, SB 596 by Sen. Josh Becker (D-San Mateo), directs CARB to determine the 2019 emissions from cement-making (measured in carbon dioxide per ton) and to reduce them by 40% by the end of 2035. Cement making in California “is the second largest source of industrial carbon pollution after oil and gas production,” NRDC Senior Attorney Alex Jackson said.
Holden’s bill, approved on a 10-3 vote on Wednesday, extends beyond cement. It was rereferred to the Committee on Environmental Quality on June 21.
Holden’s SB 1446 also requires the framework developed by CARB to include specified life-cycle analyses to determine the carbon intensity of residential and non-residential building construction.
A building releases much of its total embodied carbon at the beginning of its life. There is no ability to decrease it with post construction efficiencies, so reducing the embodied carbon in materials for new construction is one of the best strategies to reduce the overall carbon impact of the industry.
A far more controversial bill is AB 2143 by Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles). It mandates that workers who install large rooftop systems, 15 kW–usually the equivalent to 69 panels—or larger, get the prevailing wage.
Climate and worker protection
“Our climate goals and worker protection should go hand in hand,” Carrillo said.
The 15 kW and larger systems are about 3% of net energy metered rooftops that get paid to send power back to grid, with the customer credit being intensely debated. However, this bill seeks to avoid the controversy over the export rate given to customers under the net energy metering proceeding at the CPUC.
Those who install rooftop panels earn about $20 an hour which is well below the prevailing wage, which varies by region. It is $35.00 an hour plus $16 in benefits in Sacramento, according to Scott Wetch, lobbyist for California State Pipe Trades Council and other labor groups. The higher wages are estimated to increase solar installation costs by 3-5%, according to a study by the University of California, Berkeley.
Barry Cinnamon, an independent rooftop solar installer, said the bill would kill his business. He said complying with prevailing wage requirements would cause his and other “mom and pop” businesses to drown in reporting paperwork. He added it would require him to have a special payroll system, deal with several audits, and require “redundant training. “Only big business can do prevailing wage,” he said.
Carrillo’s bill also requires the CPUC to annually detail the locations of rooftop solar installations. It passed on an 8-3 vote.
Also approved was a resolution by Holden directing the California Independent System Operator to do an updated study on the advantages and disadvantages of regionalizing the grid. The lawmaker attempted to mandate a western grid in 2017 and 2018, but his legislation was overcome by opponents who worried that it would weaken the state’s climate protection and clean energy laws.
Holden’s Assembly Resolution 188, approved on a 13-0 vote, is supported by the state’s three investor-owned utilities and Environmental Voters.
The final bill approved, AB 2038 by Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), would allow the CPUC to terminate the utilities’ green tariff programs launched in 2015. The utility programs have shrunk, increasing the costs for customers, according to the San Diego Gas & Electric, which is sponsoring the bill.’