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The City of San José asked ULI to explore how it could best incentivize the adoption of on-site solar and batteries to provide resources to the electricity grid and to support the retrofit of existing buildings to all-electric.
Date: February 7-10, 2022
Location: San Jose, CA (virtual)
Sponsor: City of San Jose and Kresge Foundation
Panel Chair: Jeff Kingsbury, Ancora Partners
The City of San José approved their ambitious Climate Smart San José plan in 2018 and has already achieved several important plan milestones. Among these accomplishments are the launch of Clean Energy San José and the adoption of a ‘reach code’ that requires all new construction in the city to be all-electric rather than relying on natural gas. Building on this momentum, the City of San José asked ULI to explore how it could best incentivize the adoption of on-site solar and batteries to provide resources to the electricity grid and to support the retrofit of existing buildings to all-electric. Crucially, the recommendations would need to keep the City’s commitment to equity as a central focus.
The context for this work is that San José, like the entire Bay Area, is facing a housing crisis. Over 29% of San José homeowners and 53% of San José renters are considered to be housing burdened. The City wants to ensure that low-income residents aren’t subject to increased housing costs as buildings switch to all-electric and on-site clean energy. At the same time, the City is working to make sure that they do reap the benefits of this clean energy transition, which includes better indoor air, safer buildings, savings on power costs, and more jobs.
Specifically, the panel provided strategic recommendations on how the City can:
Key recommendations from the panel include:
Lean into leadership and innovation
The City should continue the global leadership it has already demonstrated through the development of its Climate Smart plan and reach codes. Leveraging both its established partnerships with community organizations and skilled trades as well as its rich trove of data will enable San José to continue prioritizing health, equity, and affordability as it moves forward. Drawing on its enviable role as the Capital of Silicon Valley, the City should cultivate opportunities for further collaboration with the innovative companies in its backyard.
Seize the opportunity to create jobs and create equitable prosperity
Transforming San José into an all-electric city will take deep collaboration with PG&E, the owner of all the City’s electricity distribution lines. By partnering with PG&E, labor organizations, community groups, and educational institutions, the City can use this a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create thousands of jobs and develop a skilled workforce that is prepared for the growth of the clean energy economy.
Increase access to existing resources through a Zero Carbon Hub
Residents and businesses need a one-stop location to find everything they need to know about Climate Smart San José implementation: how it benefits them, actions they need to take, and where to get technical assistance and financial resources. The creation of a Zero Carbon Hub would be more than just a website, it could serve as a kind of proxy organization with human resources dedicated to driving awareness, education, and support around the Climate Smart programs and goals.
Provide a smooth path for electrification and renewables
To best support building owners of all sizes, the City should explore how they can streamline their processes to make the transition to all-electric buildings and on-site clean energy as inexpensive and easy as possible. Flexibility with minor variances, expedited permitting, staff dedicated to shepherding all-electric projects, and the use of technology (ala the Solar App) could all make a big impact. Non-cash incentives under the City’s control such as density bonuses and the ability to subsize solar off-site rather than on-site when there are space constraints can go a long way in supporting project feasibility.
Strengthen stakeholder buy-in through continued engagement and widespread communication
The City’s robust stakeholder outreach through community-based organizations built for the development of existing building electrification plan is a great model for continuing to cultivate trust and to grow awareness of the why and how of electrification and distributed energy resources. A strong communication plan that uses multiple channels, methods, and languages to reach all communities within the city will also be essential to the success of the implementation of Climate Smart San José.
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