Nov 30, 2021 - News

Denver takes steps to cut greenhouse gases from commercial buildings

Illustration for carbon removal story

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Denver is rapidly moving toward electrifying buildings and homes by eliminating gas ranges and fireplaces.

Driving the news: The Denver City Council unanimously approved an ordinance last week that will require large office and apartment buildings to use solar power and switch to electric and water heating systems by 2030.

  • The measure passed with no formal opposition and support from the local commercial real estate development association.

Why it matters: Natural gas used in commercial and multifamily buildings in Denver accounts for 49% of the area's greenhouse gas emissions, according to the city's climate action office.

  • Lowering those levels could help curb Denver's carbon footprint and reduce building emissions by roughly 80% over the next two decades, city studies show.

The big picture: The newly passed ordinance is part of Denver's broader plans to reduce emissions and run on 100% renewable energy by 2040.

Details: Denver's ordinance will require buildings bigger than 25,000 square feet to achieve 30% energy savings by the end of this decade or face penalties.

  • Large building owners must begin switching their facilities from natural gas heating systems to electric ones by 2025, when building systems are upgraded or older systems need replacing.
  • And commercial building owners of smaller spaces between 5,000 and 25,000 square feet will be required to adopt all LED lighting by 2030 or source at least 20% of their electricity from solar power systems.

Yes, but: All-electric buildings could be more costly to operate than buildings that run on natural gas, according to findings from RMI, a Boulder-based renewable energy think tank.

  • Switching from low operating costs of natural gas-using buildings presents an equity and affordability issue that will need to be addressed, city officials say.
  • To help, Denver officials will offer financial incentives starting in 2023 to motivate building owners to adopt greener systems, half of which will be prioritized for owners with fewer resources.

What's next: In January, a committee will begin discussions to move forward on an ordinance requiring the electrification of all new buildings and homes by 2030, climate office spokesperson Winna MacLaren tells Axios.

  • Officials also plan to start a similar process to change city rules to encourage the electrification of industrial and manufacturing properties, which are estimated to account for 10% of the city's greenhouse gas emissions.
  • But, but, but: Comparable measures have proven controversial in other states and communities, where the natural gas industry has pushed back — with some states passing laws preventing communities from banning natural gas hookups in new buildings.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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