Here’s More Info on Incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act

John Horst of the National Renewable Energy Lab read last week’s blog post about the Inflation Reduction Act’s impact on the building sector and provided some valuable additional information.

For starters, he made me aware of the White House website, which has a listing of tax credits and grants under the IRA which pertain specifically to each state. Click here to view the IRA tax credits and grants that apply to Colorado. It’s a two-page PDF with paragraphs about those financial incentives plus job creation, manufacturing, cleaner air, rural opportunities and “resilient communities.”

One new incentive that hasn’t gotten a lot of coverage is the $4,000 upfront discount on the purchase of used electric cars and trucks. In the past, there was no incentive for purchasing a used EV, and the $7,500 incentive for a new EV came only as a tax credit on the following year’s tax return.

Making both incentives an “upfront discount” will make both incentives much more attractive and useful to car buyers and will accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles.

John also provided a link to a list of 59 state and federal tax credits (both personal and corporate), loan programs, grant programs, rebate programs, sales tax incentives, regulatory policies, energy standards and more — each with its own link for further information. (The above link gives the information for Zip Code 80401, but you can select a different ZIP Code anywhere in the country on that website.)

Crested Butte Bans Natural Gas in New Construction — A New Statewide Trend?

Given our commitment to addressing climate change, one of my favorite email newsletters is “Big Pivots,” written by Allen Best of Arvada, The mission of his non-profit is to document, understand and educate about the changes made necessary by climate change.

Among those changes is the transition from fossil-fuel heating of homes and water using natural gas and propane now that electric heat pump units are practical and affordable.

The latest Big Pivots email newsletter (which you can subscribe to at bigpivots.com) was about Crested Butte’s recent decision to outlaw natural gas in new construction. Rather than rewrite what Allen wrote, here is his article with some minor edits:

By ALLEN BEST

Crested Butte, a one-time coal mining town, has now turned its back on natural gas. Town councilors unanimously agreed that any new building erected on the 60 vacant lots cannot be served by gas. Major remodels must be electric-ready. It’s Colorado’s first natural gas ban, although 80 other jurisdictions around the country have taken similar measures.

“There was a lot of talk at council about it being a bold decision, but I don’t see it that way,” said Crested Butte Mayor Ian Billick. “Not only is it what we need to do, but we have all the tools to do it cost effectively.”

Billick arrived at Crested Butte several decades ago as a biologist at the nearby Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. Many experiments there have focused on the effects of warming temperatures on existing plants. One experiment involving year-round heat lamps specifically foretells a shift from the showy wildflowers for which Crested Butte is famous to an ecosystem dominated by sagebrush.

Temperatures continue to creep higher, but at more than 8,900 feet in elevation, Crested Butte still has chilly winters. The overnight temperature during January averages 6 below.

The takeaway here is that if Crested Butte is comfortable with the replacement technologies for natural gas, most other places in Colorado should be, too. Instead, builders are still tethering tens of thousands of homes and other new buildings each year to natural gas pipelines.

Denver and Boulder have taken steps to push alternatives. Here and there individual action has occurred. In Westminster, John Avenson in 2017 ordered his natural gas meter removed after maximizing the passive solar potential of his house. (YouTube video tour of John’s home.) In Arvada, Norbert Klebl developed 30 homes without natural gas in a project called GEOS. In Basalt, two affordable housing complexes have been built without natural gas. An all-electric hotel is under construction in Snowmass. North Vista Highlands is slowly taking shape in Pueblo. In Fort Collins, plans have been drawn up for Montava, a  500-unit project.

We have been pivoting slowly, but the transition is accelerating.

Granted, the generation of electricity still causes atmospheric pollution. Emissions will dramatically drop by 2030, however, as Colorado’s utilities close nine of today’s 10 coal-burning units.

Colorado legislators in 2021 passed several laws that collectively seek to squeeze emissions from our buildings. The laws reflect the state’s political makeup. Colorado may be dominated by Democrats, but it’s still a purplish state. In other words, don’t expect a wave of Crested Butte-type mandates such as occurred in California beginning in 2019. We walk on a different balancing beam.

Most important among Colorado’s legislative squeezes is Senate Bill 21-264, which requires Colorado’s four regulated natural gas utilities to incrementally reduce emissions.

The law identifies several pathways. They can, for example, help customers improve efficiency of buildings, so buildings need less gas to provide comfort. They can augment the methane obtained by drilling with methane diverted from sewage plants, feedlots and other sources. The first of their plans will be filed with state regulators in 2023. The bottom line is that the gas companies will have to adjust their business models.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission has now set about creating rules for evaluating clean-heat plans. In filings beginning last December, real estate agents, home builders and even some municipalities have argued that converting from natural gas will add costs. That was the same message at recent meetings in Montrose and Grand Junction. Their message was simple: Don’t change.

In metro Denver’s more affluent northwest suburbs, Christine Brinker of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project reports a draft policy would give builders a choice between either all-electric or natural gas with extra energy efficiency.

Unless a way can be found to cost-effectively sequester carbon emissions, natural gas will slowly be phased out in coming decades. Ironically, the arrival of natural gas was one reason that coal mining ended in Crested Butte in 1952 after a seven-decade run.

More Than Just a ‘School of Mines,’ CSM Is a Major Player in Climate Research

The Colorado School of Mines, with its historic connection to fossil fuel and mineral extraction, would seem an unlikely place for a high-level pursuit of the transition from a world powered by fossil fuels to a world of clean energy, but that’s exactly what I have observed.

Even the Petroleum Engineering Department downplays petroleum extraction in its web page with the following opening lines: “As human standards of living rise, so does energy and resource consumption. Hydrocarbon energy will continue to dominate energy usage, and other non-hydrocarbon resource development, such as geothermal and subsurface resource acquisition and development, will continue to grow in importance.”

The spring 2022 edition of Mines Magazine had a major article with the headline, “Oil and gas engineers are the key to the energy transition.”

Back in February 2017, the Faculty Senate adopted a Climate Change Statement. Central to CSM’s commitment to addressing climate change is its Global Energy Future Initiative (GEFI) related to the university’s tagline, “Earth, Energy, Environment,” with a focus on Low Carbon and Renewable Energy, Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage, and Clean Water Innovations, in addition to Minerals & Metals, Supply Chain Transparency, and Oil & Gas.  Under “Oil & Gas,” the GEFI web page talks about “Designing interdisciplinary research focused on the science, engineering and policy of oil and gas in the net-zero energy future” (emphasis added)

While there is a commitment to continued extraction of oil and gas, including hydraulic fracturing, I’m impressed by the recognition that saving our planet depends on transitioning from oil and gas to other forms of energy that reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.

I have received the email newsletter of CSM’s Payne Institute for Public Policy for several years and have been impressed at the variety and depth of the research which it is working on with regards to climate change.

To give a sense of the depth and breadth of its research, the August 2022 email newsletter from the Payne Institute has the following headlines about different research projects, each with a detailed paragraph and a link to further information on the CSM website:

> New Winners, New Losers – Toward a New Energy Security

> Declaring a Climate Emergency Won’t Save the Planet — Energy Security Could

> Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage in the New Inflation Reduction Act

> Scrap, Sell, Auction or Repurpose? What’s the Best Business Model for Coal Plant Closure?

> How Energy Subsidy Reform Can Drive the Iranian Power Sector Towards a Low-Carbon Future

> Making Carbon Offset Disclosure Align with Climate Value

> Clearing the Non-Technical Hurdles for Carbon Capture & Sequestration

> Interest Group Power and the Passage of Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) – A Multiple Streams Approach

> Tackling Ripple Effects of Renewable Energy on Mineral Supply Chain

> The Net-Zero Industry Tracker

I suggest that you Google “Colorado Schools of Mines Climate Change,” as I did, to see the many elements of CSM’s commitment to net zero energy research, climate change, and even on-campus sustainability. You’ll be impressed.

My fellow MIT alumni would never forgive me if I concluded this article without pointing out that our alma mater is equally committed to these issues and topics of research. For example, under its Climate Grand Challenges initiative, the Institute selected 27 teams as finalists from a field of nearly 100 initial proposals, representing 90 percent of MIT departments and involving almost 400 MIT faculty, senior researchers, and external collaborators. On April 11five teams with the most promising concepts were announced as multi-year flagship projects that will receive additional funding and support to develop, implement, and scale their solutions rapidly.

Climate Change Vulnerability Is Increasingly an Issue for Homebuyers  

It’s not surprising, given the extreme weather we’re witnessing, including here in Colorado, that 63% of people who moved during the pandemic say that climate is or will be an issue where they now live, according to a Redfin survey of 1,000 Americans who moved since March 2020. Many of the respondents said they researched climate issues before making their move.

In another survey by ValuePenguin, more than half of Americans fear they would not be able to recover financially from a climate-induced catastrophe. An earlier Redfin survey showed that Americans between the ages of 35 and 44 were most likely to say that “natural disasters, extreme temperatures and rising sea levels” all influenced or will influence their decisions on where to move. 

Here in Colorado we’ve been blessed to experience fewer and less dramatic impacts from climate change. But those impacts are knocking on our door. Consider last summer’s fire smoke, or this month’s hurricane-force winds, or our current drought.

Our water supply depends on snowpack, and rising winter temperatures result in more rain and less snow. Even though we’re east of the continental divide, we, like the Western Slope and the states west of us, are dependent on the dwindling Colorado River water, which is transported from the Western Slope to the Front Range through tunnels.

Because we experience fewer effects of climate change, I foresee increased migration from other parts of the country, including “tornado alley,” to Colorado as their current homes experience climate change’s increasing impact.

In researching this topic, I came across a Fall 2021 white paper from SitusAMC entitled “The Burgeoning Insurance Costs for Real Estate.” It assesses the impact of increased losses from catastrophes, mostly caused by climate change.

Although the focus of the white paper is on the ability of insurers to cover increased claims and the effect of those increased claims on residential and commercial insurance rates, it also made some interesting observations about the migration of people to and from states with high insurance claims and expected future risks from climate change.

So guest what? With the sole exception of California, people are moving to states where they will be more at risk rather than less. Texas, which accounted for 40% of all insurance claims in the first half of 2021, has had the highest influx of people from other states. Florida, despite its risks, was a close second.

In recent years I’ve seen many of my sellers relocating to Florida, and it’s hard for me to understand.

So there you have it — a Redfin study that says Americans are considering climate change risks before making their move, while another study shows that more people are moving into states and areas of high risk. Could both be true? I’m not sure what to believe now!

Let’s Call It What It Is: ‘Climate Destabilization’

Regular readers of this column know that I’m a big proponent of addressing climate change. We are definitely feeling the effects of not addressing it this year with the “heat domes.”

Years ago, I suggested we refer to climate change as “climate destabilization,” because the kinds of flood/drought, hot/cold episodes we are witnessing demonstrate exactly that. Although I’m not a scientist, I understand science, and I know that the jet stream is affected by changes in the Arctic, and the Arctic has been warming faster than the rest of the planet, as proven by the rapid reduction in summer ice. The heat domes of summer and the polar vortexes of the winter are direct results of that polar warming.

We are fortunate to have the climate change deniers out of power so that we can finally address climate change. Have we passed the tipping point?  A few years ago, citing the loss of summer ice in the Arctic, I said we may be, but we shouldn’t use that as a reason to stand by as the jet stream continues to lash the planet and as the Gulf Stream, responsible for keeping Europe temperate.

We can’t do everything the world needs, but the world needs everything we can do.

Redfin Survey Suggests Colorado Will See Influx of Buyers Due to Climate Fears

A recent survey of 2,000 U.S. residents by Redfin found that three-quarters of Americans are hesitant to buy homes in areas with a high climate risk. Those risks include more severe hurricanes & tornadoes, flooding, higher temperatures, wildfires, and rising sea levels.

It’s not hard to see why Colorado would be a favored destination for “climate refugees.” I have sold several homes to Californians recently, including just this month to my stepson, who currently lives in Sherman Oaks. 

We Realtors are seeing more and more of our listings going to out-of-state buyers, subjecting local buyers to increased competition in bidding wars.

If you’ve been paying attention to national weather reports, you can understand this trend. In California, the last two fire seasons have been terrifying. Last week’s earthquake in Los Angeles could have added to the situation.

In the Midwest, we have seen tornado after tornado destroying entire neighborhoods. And rising water temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico are promising increasingly severe hurricanes and flooding.

The Redfin survey broke down by age the reluctance of home buyers to purchase a home in such areas. What it found was that buyers between 35 and 44 years old have the highest reluctance, with buyers between 25 and 34 years old having the second highest reluctance to buy in such areas.

Fifty-nine percent of persons between 35 and 44 years old said that the increasing intensity and frequency of natural disasters played a role in their decision about where to move.  Fifty-eight percent said that extreme temperatures played a role, and 48% said that rising sea levels played a role in their decision.

For people 25 to 34 years old, the percentages were 52%, 50% and 35% respectively.

The lowest percentage of reluctance was among the oldest buyers surveyed, those between 55 and 64 years old. (For some unexplained reason, Redfin didn’t survey people 65 and older.) Only 28% of that age group said that natural disasters and rising temperatures were a factor in their decision to buy, and only 15% cited rising sea levels as a factor.

Among my own clients, I have been surprised at how many sellers — all of them seniors — have relocated to Texas and Florida. For some it was to be close to family. For others it was because of lower home prices. They benefited from our runaway seller’s market, buying equivalent homes for much less money in those states.

“Climate change is making certain parts of the country less desirable to live in,” says Redfin’s chief economist. “As Americans leave places that are frequently on fire or at risk of going underwater, the destinations that don’t face those risks will become increasingly competitive and expensive.”

Perhaps the Denver Post should bring back the phrase, “Climate Capital of the World,” below its front-page logo.

All-Electric Homes (and Buildings) Are Central to Mitigating Climate Change

As much as we Americans love our gas fireplaces, gas ranges and gas grills, we need to recognize that the move to an all-electric home, with the electricity being generated using minimal fossil fuels, is central to the goal of mitigating the effects of climate change.

And it can be a good future, especially if you’re able to generate all the electricity that your home and cars use.

That’s the future Rita and I have created for ourselves. We have 10 kW of solar panels on our Golden home, enough to heat and cool our home and charge our two electric cars. Our forced air furnace only burns gas when the outside temp dips below freezing. Otherwise, a heat pump provides all the heat we need. And recently we replaced our gas water heater with a hybrid water heater that heats all the water we need using its built-in heat pump. It has a standard electric heater coil in case we need faster recovery.  (We never have needed faster recovery.)

Yes, we still have a gas cooktop and gas fireplace, and our BBQ grill is plumbed with gas. I can picture us moving to an induction electric cooktop, electric fireplace and electric grill, but for now we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we have drastically reduced our carbon footprint and our monthly energy bills with the use of heat pumps for heating, cooling and water heating, as well as by driving EVs.

A December article on axios.com reported that some progressive jurisdictions are now banning gas hookups in new residential and commercial construction. According the article, 40 California municipalities, starting with Berkeley in 2019, have banned the installation of natural gas service in new construction.

The most common argument against this anti-natural gas trend relates to the cost of electric heating vs. gas heating, but the people who make that argument are probably thinking of conventional resistance heating, such as baseboard electric heating.

Resistance heating is similar to your kitchen toaster, sending electricity to a coil causing it to generate heat.  There is a more efficient way to heat, however, which is to use a heat pump. A heat pump moves heat instead of generating heat, and the cost is as little at one quarter that of resistance heating for the same BTU (heat) output. Here’s a article comparing the two kinds of electric heating.

Moreover, a heat pump can provide both heating and cooling, merely by reversing the direction in which it moves heat, replacing both the gas furnace and electric air conditioning unit which most of us have in our homes.

Another argument against increased electrification is that electricity is itself created by the burning of coal and natural gas. The current fuel mix of Xcel Energy in Colorado is 36% natural gas, 32.5% coal, and the rest renewable energy (mostly wind). The company’s goal is 55% renewable by 2026 and 100% “carbon-free” by 2050, so it makes sense to start now replacing gas appliances with high efficiency electric ones such as heat pumps.

Keep in mind, too, that we can generate our own electricity at home and on our office buildings, taking advantage of “net metering,” paying only to be connected to the electric grid. With net metering, Xcel’s grid functions like a battery, taking excess electricity from our solar installations during the day and delivering it back to us when the sun goes away — or when our solar panels are covered with snow!

This Climate Change Movie Is a Must-See

Of all the movies I watched during last month’s Colorado Environmental Film Festival, “Kiss the Ground” was by far the most impactful. It won the festival’s top  award, and deservedly so.

You will learn so much, as I did, from this 84-minute documentary about agriculture, farming, carbon sequestration and climate change. Schools can stream a 45-minute version of it free, including if you are doing home schooling. Visit www.KissTheGroundMovie.com to stream it. The rest of us can rent it for a dollar, or find the full-length documentary on Netflix.

The central thesis of the movie is that the mass tillage and spraying of farmlands under industrial farming is destroying the soil’s natural ability to sequester carbon. By the end of the movie you’ll be convinced that “regenerative farming” is the solution of our CO2 crisis.

The narrator of the movie is Woody Harrelson, who starts out by saying that he had given up on saving the planet from the effects of climate change, until he realized that the solution is “as old as dirt.”

A key character in the documentary is Ray Archuleta, a conservation agronomist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), formerly the Soil Conservation Service created by FDR to deal with the causes of the “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s, when excessive tillage of farmland had caused massive erosion and dust storms.

The goal of NRCS agents like Archuleta is to reduce tillage and the use of chemicals that damage the soil. Achieving that counter-revolution would allow the soil to absorb and sequester enough carbon to solve the climate crisis, the film asserts. It’s a powerful argument.

I challenge you to watch the first 10 minutes of this film, and you will want to watch the remaining 74 minutes. You’ll get a huge education about the importance of soil health to the future of our planet. There’s a trailer on the website.

Plant-Based Meat Has Won Us Over

First, Rita and I tried the “Impossible Whopper” at Burger King, and we liked it — can’t tell it from the regular Whopper. Then Rita found the package shown here at Costco — eight 1/4-lb. patties for $14.99. She cooked them in a pan and seasoned them as she would regular burgers, topped with pepperjack cheese and sautéed mushrooms, and served the patties on a bed of romaine lettuce and sliced tomatoes with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. On another occasion she substituted Roast Pineapple & Haberno Sauce for the dressing, and it was even more delicious.  Try it! You’ll thank me for telling you about them!

Committed as Rita and I are to mitigating climate change, we recognize the desirability of reducing our consumption of beef, and this product makes that really easy and enjoyable.

At Saturday’s ‘Green Homes’ Tour, You’ll Learn What’s Possible for Your Home

The Metro Denver Green Homes Tour is an annual event that happens on the first Saturday in October, which is this coming Saturday. For $10 per person, you get to go on a self-guided tour of 14 Jefferson County homes with a variety of green features.

I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about solar power and sustainability, but every year I learn things I didn’t already know by touring the homes on this tour.

Golden Real Estate is proud to be a platinum sponsor of this event each year. Also, I serve on the steering committee and help in a variety of ways, such as organizing the Electric Vehicle Showcase, which takes place during the post-tour reception, 4 to 6 pm in the CoorsTek parking lot at 10th & Jackson Street in downtown Golden. It coincides with the reception and Green Expo in the American Mountaineering Center (AMC) across the street.

You can register for the tour online at www.MetroDenverGreenHomesTour.org, but you’ll need to pick up your tour book and map, which you can do anytime on Friday at Golden Real Estate’s office, 17695 S. Golden Road, or on Saturday after 9am at the AMC, 710 10th Street.  If you don’t register online, you can do so at the AMC on Saturday morning.

Then you’re on your own, mapping out your own tour based on locations but also on what you read about each house in the tour book.

I couldn’t shoot video tours of every home, but I did choose two that the committee felt represented particularly interesting examples of sustainability. You can see those two videos on the website mentioned above. By watching those two videos you will learn things you didn’t already know, as I did by shooting them.

To quote from page 3 of the tour book, “In our ongoing effort to showcase a wide variety of solutions and lifestyles, you will see solar, of course, and also mini splits, ground source heat pumps and passive solar treatments. You can visit an Arvada sustainable new town home community [Geos] and enjoy many other sustainable lifestyle features such as co-housing, electric vehicles and water wise gardens. You will be viewing the tried-and-true in addition to the latest in innovative technologies, plus learning many steps used to eliminate red tape while going green.”

If you pick up your tour book at Golden Real Estate, let us show you how we transitioned to “net zero energy” using many of the features you’ll see on the tour, including heat pump/mini-split heating & cooling, solar panels, super insulation, and tankless electric water heating. Our monthly energy bill is $10.26 since having our gas meter removed two years ago. If you come in an electric car, you can plug in to our free ChargePoint charging stations — powered by the sun — while we show you around! Click here to read the Jan. 4, 2018, column I wrote describing Golden Real Estate’s transition to Net Zero Energy.

This Saturday’s tour is one of 79 such tours of 894 private homes happening this weekend as part of the National Solar Tour sponsored by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES). And that doesn’t include, for example, last Saturday’s Boulder Green Home Tour, which had 10 homes on it. This is the 25th National Solar Tour, and we have participated for 23 of those years.

Don’t forget the Green Expo during the reception, 4 to 6 pm following the tour. Many companies which implement green solutions will have booths, and there will be an Electric Vehicle Showcase in the parking lot across the street. If you have an EV, bring it for display! If you’re interested in going electric, there will be test drives available. Also, Pedego Golden is bringing electric bicycles which you can test ride.  I have an electric bike, and I love it!

Also at the event will be the CSU Extension 4-H Mobile STEM Lab. The primary focus of the mobile lab is energy production and conservation, energy conversions and mechanical advantage for youth and adults.  Should be interesting!

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