Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf recently vetoed legislation that would have banned municipalities from adopting building codes that prohibit certain types of energy.
The legislative effort to enact a ban on restrictive codes came as some municipalities around the country have adopted all-electric building codes for new construction in an effort to combat climate change. The move to building electrification is seen as a pathway to decarbonizing the atmosphere. An electric grid powered by renewable energy could power more energy-efficient buildings, and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, such as natural gas, oil, and coal, as well as other fuel sources.
Buildings account for almost 40 percent of all U.S. energy use and 76 percent of electricity use, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Pennsylvania is the No. 2 state for natural gas production and a large number of its residents have natural gas heat. The state Senate approved the legislation, which would prevent municipalities from writing new building codes that restrict utility service based on the energy source, in October 2021, and the state House recently gave its approval, sending the legislation to Wolf for his veto.
The majority of energy consumption in the U.S. is still from fossil fuel sources, the U.S. Energy Information Agency recently reported, accounting for 79 percent of use in 2021. But the use of renewable energy continues to increase, now making up 21 percent of the total. At the same time, the country’s total energy consumption also continues to increase, with the largest annual increase on record last year, the EIA said, due to the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the EIA also reported that more than one-quarter of U.S. homes now use electricity as the only source of energy. The report noted that states in warm climates tend to have more all-electric homes, while states in colder climates then to use natural gas or fuel oil. The report also said that factor, including the fuel infrastructure and availability, can affect the type of energy used. The most common fuel combination is natural gas and electricity, at 55 percent of homes.
While municipalities can implement all-electric building codes, they may also want to consider the cost of those decisions, depending on the price of electricity compared to natural gas or other sources and the cost of constructing an all-electric building, in addition to the climate implications.