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Comments to DOE and CPO a National Definition for a Zero Emissions Building

The Department of Energy (DOE) and the Office of Domestic Climate Policy (CPO) published a Request for Information on a National Definition for a Zero Emissions Building. The Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law (Policy Integrity) submitted comments through DOE and CPO's question-and-answer textbox format. Please find a short summary of Policy Integrity's comments below:
  • DOE and CPO should clarify the goals motivating the creation of the standardized, national definition. The initiative's intentions could be confusing to the general public, given the definition's name and currently stated goal. DOE and CPO should consider whether a different name for the initiative may better convey the range of goals that may extend beyond a building's direct emissions.
  • DOE and CPO should explain why different efficiency targets are necessary for existing versus new buildings, and why the proposed percentage targets are the best options to promote the initiative's goals.
  • DOE and CPO should identify specific potential uses for the definition and provide additional context on how and where this definition can be useful, including providing examples.
  • Not all building owners are equally positioned in terms of their capacity to generate power on site, nor in terms of their access to competitive markets for clean energy, administrative resources, or even their geography to be reasonably able to procure carbon-free energy from off-site sources. If the initiative’s goal is to incentivize the construction of buildings that are well-positioned to be free of both direct and indirect emissions by approximately 2035, an initial focus on electrification and efficiency may be more productive for some building types, especially for buildings that are likely to have trouble procuring their own clean energy.
  • If there is a “clean energy” requirement applicable to grid power, to the maximum extent possible, it should be a technology-neutral requirement that buildings rely exclusively on power that is generated in a manner that (a) does not give rise to direct emissions and (b) does not rely on fuel whose production and transportation give rise to emissions.
  • A single national definition to cover all building types is not necessarily important and, indeed, may be counterproductive to the goals. DOE and CPO should consider whether separate definitions may be appropriate for some building types, allowing more finely-tuned criteria appropriate to the specific building type.