Enact incentives to encourage development of net zero (or net positive!) buildings.
by 2050 we need to go way beyond the Stretch Energy Building Code which is only 30-40% less energy than today's inefficiently constructed buildings. The city should establish adopt new building code which includes incentives for even more efficient structures. Incentives like the ability to circumvent historical commission restrictions, exceed various zoning requirements like FAR or number of units in a building, reducing or eliminating parking requirements, etc.
What actions do you propose?
Appropriate incentives will encourage developers to adopt more aggressive strategies to save energy. These are all city policies, zoning regulation changes, etc. The specific actions are to establish new zoning regulations.
There are plenty of ways to reduce the energy consumption in existing buildings as most buildings are not built to be very efficient. What is missing is an appropriate set of incentives. When a developer is financially rewarded for maximizing the square footage of a building rather than how efficient the building is then we get inefficient buildings.
Developers will respond immediately to incentives - give them a way to make money by building efficient housing stock and that is what they will do.
There are probably a whole host of possible approaches. Existing buildings can be made more efficient, though in the long run most of the existing buildings will need to be replaced. Even expensive "deep energy retrofits" can't get an old building to "net zero" consumption.
There are thousands of examples of buildings which are built to "passive house" standards, with energy consumption 90% less than typically constructed buildings. There are plenty of resources, see Passive House for plenty of links to references and studies.
We know how to build efficient structures, what is missing is the right incentives.
Who will take these actions?
Neighborhood committees and whoever wants to be involved in the new zoning process. Eventually the city would adopt these new zoning rules.
What are the key challenges?
In the US, buildings are responsible for about 30% of CO2 emissions, this EPA site for more details. Reducing the emissions from buildings means reducing their net energy consumption and getting to net zero (or net positive energy contributors) energy consumption will mean building much more efficient structures.
"carbon offsets" are not carbon reduction and are more like cheat neutral (seewww.cheatneutral.comallowing Somerville to emit more carbon while someone else promises to emit less.
What are the key benefits?
Efficient structures will consume less energy, reducing long term operating cost and reducing carbon emissions needed to heat/cool them.
What are the proposal’s costs?
The cost is very low, it is simply the process of creating new zoning regulations. The cost of implementation will be borne by developers who are incented to build efficient structures and will recoup their investments by selling/renting/leasing them.
Since many developers and landlords don't pay for the ongoing operating costs of a building they have little incentive to make an efficient building. If we reward these developers for making a building more efficient then they will respond accordingly. For example, if it costs 10% more to build a net zero building then let the developer include 10% more square feet, or even 15% more square feet, and they will jump at the opportunity.
Time line for new zoning regulations is probably 2-3 years of socialization, etc. Implementation by developers will happen over the next 5-50 years as housing stock and commercial buildings are replaced by more efficient structures.