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Meeting the Challenge of Washington’s New Clean Buildings Standard


March 4, 2021  by  Bonnie Frye Hemphill
Category:  Climate Change Energy Resources and Conservation Design

Meeting the Challenge of Washington’s New Clean Buildings Standard

Does your team at your publicly owned building have the time and technical expertise to meet the new Clean Buildings Standard? This blog post will provide an overview of this new regulation, how it applies to your publicly owned building, and how your building department can prepare for meeting the new requirements.  

The Background

What is the Clean Buildings Standard and why does Washington need it? In 2019 Governor Jay Inslee signed HB 1257 into law. Also known at the Clean Building law, this legislation gave the Department of Commerce (DOC) authority to develop and implement energy performance standards for non-residential buildings greater than 50,000 square feet in floor area, with the intent of encouraging more energy-efficient structures and reducing costs and pollution from fossil fuel use.  

Existing non-residential buildings are among Washington State’s primary consumers of energy, and together, produce over a quarter of our state’s total carbon pollution. The new Clean Buildings Standard provides both incentives to encourage early adoption as well as penalties for non-compliance with its building performance standards. The law applies to both public and privately-owned buildings.

When and How Will the New Standard Take Effect?

Many buildings will need several years of dedicated improvements to comply with the law on schedule. Compliance will be determined by a building’s Energy Use Intensity (EUI) for its building type — such as K-12 education, public services office space, etc. — compared to its EUIt, or the “target” for that building type as defined in the Clean Buildings Standard. The EUI framework measures energy consumed per square foot of conditioned space, specific to your building’s use and regional climate, and is widely accepted across the country. But while EUI is a simple concept, the details are complex, and some local governments might find it valuable to partner with building professionals to help you understand your current and target EUIs.

The table below provides EUIt targets for common buildings local governments are most likely to be operating, such as courthouses, libraries, etc. Climate Zone 4C is applicable to Western Washington and Climate Zone 5B is for Eastern Washington. This data is pulled from the DOC's Rule-Making Order for WSR 20-17-129 (see pages 35-42 of the Order for EUIt data on various types of buildings).

Building Activity Type Climate Zone 4C Climate Zone 5B
No. Portfolio Manager Types Portfolio Manager Sub-Types EUIt EUIt
76 Public Services Courthouse 101 106
77 Public Services Fire Station 65 68
78 Public Services Library 56 59
79 Public Services Mailing Center/Post Office 51 54
80 Public Services Police Station 65 68
81 Public Services Prison/Incarceration 101 106
82 Public Services Social Meeting Hall 50 52
83 Public Services Transportation Terminal/Station 55 59
84 Public Services Other – Public Service 66 69

Compliance with the Clean Buildings Standard is tiered by a building’s amount of conditioned space:

  • Buildings greater than 220,000 square feet must comply by June 1, 2026,
  • Buildings greater than 90,000 square feet must comply by June 1, 2027, and
  • Buildings greater than 50,000 square feet must comply by June 1, 2028.

Sound far away? Building managers have three choices for when to tackle what may be significant work to meet compliance:

  • Act soon for early-adopter incentives,
  • Comply on time without incentives, or
  • Fail to comply and face substantial annual penalties.

Whatever timing you choose, you want to know what you face. Building managers should start now by benchmarking your facility’s EUI against the building’s statutory EUI target (EUIt). Benchmarking puts you in position to apply for early-adopter incentives, seek low-cost options toward timely compliance, or even give you enough time to implement substantial infrastructure upgrades (if needed) ahead of your compliance deadline. No matter what, the essential first step is to benchmark your building’s energy use.

Earn incentives, avoid penalties

The Clean Buildings Standard offers Early Adoption Incentive funds. If you choose to get ahead of your compliance period, begin compiling your application now so that you’re ready when the funding program opens on July 1, 2021. The limited pool of $75 million dollars will be allocated rapidly to early adopters on a first-come, first-serve basis. The incentive for individual buildings is $0.85 per square foot and is additional to other energy efficiency incentives through utilities and any grants your building may also be eligible to receive. That means that for a 220,000 square foot building, you could supplement your progress to your EUIt with $187,000 of grant funds — just for acting quickly to upgrade your building to meet compliance. To reserve your share, benchmark your building’s EUI now. Your benchmark will inform the scope and help you build a strong application to submit for Early Adoption Incentive funds in July.

Start your planning now: buildings that fail to meet compliance with the Clean Buildings Standard by their statutory deadlines will face a substantial annual penalty of up to $5,000 plus $1.00 per square foot.

Utilize the Energy Services Performance Contracting program

How can public buildings meet compliance? Washington State administers an Energy Savings Performance Contracting (ESPC) program for public entities. If your public facility needs substantial infrastructure retrofits to meet compliance with your Clean Buildings Standard energy use intensity target, the ESPC program may be the most streamlined way for a local government to manage the various incentives, design development, and construction. This program saves you internal resources by essentially providing an extension of staff with agency vetted firms. The ESPC process delivers guaranteed energy savings and equipment performance — all at a guaranteed cost for your public facility. ESPC is easy, effective, and affordable.

Simplify the business case and benchmark your energy use today

Do you know your building’s benchmark energy use intensity target? Add life to your building, cut energy bills, take the lead on green jobs in our region, avoid penalties, and earn incentives. Take action now for your public building to meet the challenge of Washington’s new Clean Buildings Standard.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Bonnie Frye Hemphill

Bonnie is the Director of Policy & Partnerships at UMC, a mechanical contracting firm based in the Pacific Northwest. She brings 15 years of experience in climate and clean-energy policy to drive UMC’s public engagement and strategic alliances with a broad range of regional leaders in the built environment.

Bonnie is writing as a guest author. The views expressed in guest columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.

VIEW ALL POSTS BY Bonnie Frye Hemphill

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