For immediate release: January 3, 2001
Media Contact: Claudia Chandler -- 916 654-4989


New Building Standards Help
the State Cut Energy Use

Sacramento - By a vote of 4 to 0, the California Energy Commission today adopted emergency standards for energy efficiency in new buildings that will cut the State's energy use by 200 megawatts annually - enough electricity to power 200,000 average-sized California homes.

"Today's vote illustrates how the Energy Commission is attacking the State's electricity problems in two ways - by decreasing the demand for power through energy efficiency, even as it increases the amount of electricity made available by new power plants," said Energy Commissioner Robert Pernell, Presiding Member of the Efficiency Committee.

As approved today, a major feature of the updated standards for energy efficiency in new residential and nonresidential construction is increased emphasis on air conditioning and heating ducts to prevent wasteful leaks. Studies show that the ductwork in a typical new home loses between 20 and 30 percent of the cool air it carries in the summer, causing air conditioners to work harder, wasting electricity, driving up energy bills and making the home less comfortable.

Another feature of the new standards is the requirement for radiant barriers that reflect heat from the sun in attic spaces, and improved window requirements that will reduce the amount of solar heat that radiates into a home and adds to the air conditioning load. Increasing air conditioning use on hot summer afternoons has driven California's electricity consumption to new highs, endangering the electricity system and bringing the State to the brink of rolling blackouts. In San Diego County, some summer electricity bills increased by as much as 300 percent.

The emergency standards also feature the use of devices such as thermostatic expansion valves that improve the efficiency of air conditioning units. In nonresidential buildings, additional energy savings come from improvements in lighting and air conditioning equipment. All of these additions offer builders several new options they can choose to achieve energy efficiency.

The changes - most of which go into effect on June 1, 2001 - have the support of utilities, window manufacturers, the California Building Industry Association and the Natural Resources Defense Council, among others. The Energy Commission will work closely with building officials, builders and utilities to provide training on the new Standards.

While creating new energy efficiency building standards normally takes several years, the latest emergency modifications were adopted in just 119 days. The new rules were mandated by the Legislature and the Governor this summer when Assembly Bill 970 was enacted in response to the State's increasingly vulnerable electricity supply.

"Encouraging energy efficiency is one of the cornerstones of AB 970," explained Chairman Keese. "A watt not wasted is one that doesn't need to be created and transmitted through the State's power grid. By both using energy wisely and adding new power plants, we can doubly protect our State's energy supply."

Other energy efficiency measures are already underway to save 50 megawatts of power in State buildings and at State universities. An additional 30 megawatts is expected to be saved this summer by adapting roofs to absorb less heat and reduce the electricity needed for air conditioning.

The Energy Commission is increasing the amount of electricity that California power plants generate. Last month the Energy Commission licensed its ninth power plant since April 1999. The nine power plants, once constructed, will produce 6,308 megawatts, increasing California's instate electricity generation system by 12 percent. Three plants - totaling 1,350 megawatts - will be producing electricity by this summer, and two more plants - totaling an additional 1,930 megawatts - should be online for the following summer.

An additional 13 power plants - totaling 6,506 megawatts - are currently in the Energy Commission's licensing review process.

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