Colorado cities and towns must adopt new energy rules promoting solar and electric vehicle hookups when they revise their local codes beginning July 1, part of the state’s ongoing push to embed clean electrification in all new buildings and make long-term cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.
The code minimums require more efficient appliances and prewiring for solar panels and electric vehicle charging in new buildings, which state energy officials call one of the five largest categories for greenhouse gas emissions.
While developers are wary of adding costs to construction in a housing market already considered unaffordable, Colorado Energy Office director Will Toor said studies show it’s much cheaper to build efficiency into new construction than to retrofit buildings later.
Preparing a home for an EV charger costs about $1,000 in new construction, but can cost up to $4,000 to retrofit an older home and garage, said Adam Berry, a senior program manager on codes and efficiency at the Colorado Energy Office.
The Colorado Legislature passed House Bill 1362 in 2022 directing state agencies to create an energy codes board and develop a mandatory set of local codes by June 1. The code changes will roll out over time across the state, Toor said, because cities are on different schedules of when they periodically update their building codes.
It’s vital for the state to set the boundaries “to make sure Coloradans can take advantage of electrification” without big retrofitting costs, Toor said. Xcel and other large utilities in Colorado are transforming their power generation from coal and natural gas to wind, solar power and other renewable technologies. State and federal laws provide incentives and mandates for electrifying many daily technologies in order to employ the cleanly generated electricity.
The codes cover single family, multiunit dwellings and commercial buildings. The EV charging rules take effect for multiunit apartments first, in order to accelerate the impact during Colorado’s apartment building growth, Toor said.
Building and housing industry leaders participated in the code talks, but are not sanguine with the outcome.
“While we share the goals of reducing energy use and emissions, we must balance these goals with all housing costs,” according to a statement by Ted Leighty, CEO of the Colorado Association of Home Builders.
“Our primary goal as a stakeholder was to ensure that affordability was taken into account in this process and that the costs associated with the new requirements did not outweigh the efficiency benefits to homebuyers,” Leighty said. “Unfortunately, while we are working with elected officials and housing advocates at the state and local levels to address housing affordability, this new code will mandate increases in the cost of housing — ultimately pricing too many homebuyers out of the market.”
At the codes board and in discussions over separate 2023 legislation targeting EV charger minimums for new apartments, opponents said clean energy advocates wanted far more prewiring than Colorado drivers will use for decades to come.
The Colorado Apartment Association said only about 1% of current renters surveyed said they want an EV charger right now. Those numbers will increase, the association said, but requiring more than half of all parking spaces to be wired for chargers adds costs that can’t be justified by current EV growth.
Berry said the codes board has “struck a good balance” on those arguments. The board agreed to allow prewiring that amounts to “EV-capable lite,” Berry said, meaning there is only a requirement for leaving the physical space necessary to increase electrical capacity in future upgrades. The wiring can be added later on demand.
Colorado has $2 million in grant money available for local governments that want help implementing the new codes, state officials said. The state is also funneling hundreds of millions of dollars in Colorado and federal incentives for buying new and used EVs, heat pump water heaters, heat pump furnaces and other home appliances that will run on clean energy.
The next round of debates at the code board may be more contentious. While the new energy codes still require pathways for both natural gas and electricity service to buildings, Toor said, the board in 2024 must write “low carbon” codes. That will renew arguments about whether new buildings should be built electric-only, with no natural gas hookups allowed.