Press Releases and Media Advisories

Press Release

Thursday, May 20, 2010

For Immediate Use

New study shows how building retrofits can help slow climate change

Contact: Berkeley Law: Susan Gluss, sgluss@law.berkeley.edu, 510-642-6936
UCLA Law: Lauri Gavel, gavel@law.ucla.edu, 310-206-2611

Climate change threatens California's economy, resources and quality of life. As a result, the state has mandated reductions in the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. One often overlooked but cost-effective way to reduce these emissions is to plug the energy leaks from homes and businesses.  

A new report, "Saving Energy: How California Can Launch a Statewide Retrofit Program for Existing Residences and Small Businesses," looks at steps policymakers and industry leaders can take to improve and expand state retrofit programs. "Saving Energy" is a joint project of the University of California, Berkeley, and UCLA schools of law and the state attorney general's office.  

Homes and small commercial buildings are responsible for about 22 percent of the state's total greenhouse gas emissions. Most of this energy drain comes from poorly insulated walls, structural air leaks, inefficient heating and cooling systems, and outdated lighting fixtures.  

"Many homeowners and small-business owners are unaware of the energy inefficiencies in their own properties," said report author Ethan Elkind, Bank of America Climate Change Research Fellow at UCLA Law and Berkeley Law. "Completed retrofits can reduce energy costs while saving homeowners up to $500 each year."  

Special Assistant Attorney General Cliff Rechtschaffen says the report's policy recommendations can help California's business community prosper in an era of climate-change regulation.   

"With California experiencing significant unemployment and a need to fight climate change, retrofitting homes and small businesses presents an opportunity to employ idled construction workers, while eliminating energy waste from buildings," Rechtschaffen said.
Many of the state's older buildings were built before California introduced energy-efficiency standards in the late 1970s. As a result, efficiency improvements in these older buildings lag behind newer structures. Challenges that often stymie any broad implementation of energy-efficient retrofits include: 

• lack of knowledge by building owners about the potential retrofit benefits.
• difficulty securing financing to pay for the improvements.
• lack of incentives for landlords to upgrade a rental unit when the energy savings will go to the tenant.
• a nascent retrofit workforce that lacks certified training and licensing.
• reluctance of some building owners to undertake a potentially invasive construction process.

One government pilot program in California shows promise in its ability to expand building retrofits, the researchers say. The Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program allows building owners to receive local and state government funds to cover the upfront costs of retrofits. Owners pay back the loan through increased semi-annual property assessments over a 20-year span.  

Initial PACE programs in Berkeley, Sonoma County and Palm Desert have seen strong demand from building owners. Sonoma County alone received almost $40 million in funding requests. Construction-related jobs in Sonoma increased by 7.5 percent during program's implementation, despite the loss of similar jobs in nearby counties.  

The joint law school report recommends that policymakers expand and support PACE and other financial incentive programs, develop a consumer marketing and educational campaign, and create licensing standards to attract a pool of skilled retrofit contractors.  

California Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, co-author of a law that requires the state to achieve greater energy efficiencies in buildings, lauds the report's recommendations.  

"'Saving Energy' highlights critical policy solutions to help building owners finance retrofits and launch a large-scale industry of trained retrofit contractors," Skinner said.  

The paper's recommendations are the result of a climate change workshop convened by the UCLA and UC Berkeley law schools. Participants included industry leaders, policymakers, academics and business executives. It was the fourth in a series of workshops funded by the Bank of America as part of its 10-year, $20 billion environmental initiative to address climate change.  

To read a full copy of "Saving Energy," visit the Berkeley Law website or the UCLA Law website.

To arrange interviews with Ethan Elkind, contact him directly at elkind@law.berkeley.edu or 510-643-3701.  

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