Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed executive orders on Monday to impose sweeping green energy mandates on new construction and help triple the number of electric vehicles in the state by 2020.
The governor signed the orders at a ceremony in Portland, before she travels to Germany later this week to attend the United Nations climate talks.
The goal of Brown’s two executive orders is to “drive the state’s efforts forward in reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” she told reporters after the event. “Buildings, both residential and commercial, consume about 30 percent of Oregon’s energy use.”
Under the governor’s first executive order, new homes built after September 2020 must be equipped for solar panel installation and commercial buildings must meet the same mandate by October 2022. By October 2022, all parking structures for new homes and commercial buildings must be wired for at least one electric vehicle charger.
And by October 2023, Brown has directed the state’s Building Codes Division to require all new homes to be “zero-energy ready.” California has adopted a similar goal for new homes to generate as much energy as they consume. New commercial construction will also face energy efficiency mandates, and all new construction must use high-efficiency water fixtures.
The governor’s second executive order sets a goal of at least 50,000 registered electric vehicles in the state by 2020, a huge increase over just three years from the 16,000 currently registered.
State government will help Oregon meet that goal, through mandates in the governor’s executive order to increase state purchases of electric vehicles and install more charging stations on government property.
The surprise imposition of major new regulations on the construction industry upset Sen. Alan Olsen, a Republican from Canby who is a general contractor. Olsen is also vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.
“Why didn’t she bring it to the Legislature?” Olsen asked, before answering his own question. “Because she knew she couldn’t get it passed.”
Olsen said Brown was “taking a page out of the playbook of Barack Obama,” referring to the president’s use of executive orders. Presidents of both parties, including Donald Trump, have used executive orders to enact policies that lacked legislative support.
“You talk about not being able to afford housing,” Olsen said. “That’s going to add to the cost of a house. It’s going to be astronomical.”
Others applauded Brown’s executive orders. The nation’s most powerful trade group for car manufacturers said in a press release that “Brown’s leadership in committing such resources to jump-start an (electric vehicle) marketplace sets an example for other states who have committed to similar goals.”
The group Climate Solutions also hailed the new mandates. “Governor Brown’s executive order on energy efficiency will help make all new buildings highly efficient from the start,” said David Van’t Hof, the group’s acting Oregon director, in a statement. “Today’s action, on the first day of the international climate talks, demonstrates the importance of local leadership and positions our legislature to take the next critical step in 2018: passing Oregon’s Clean Energy Jobs bill.”
Brown couldn’t say on Monday how much the executive order to improve the energy efficiency of buildings would cost the state. But she pointed out the executive orders do contain escape clauses that allow for delays if the actions would be too costly.
The governor told The Oregonian/OregonLive her staff would provide information on cost, but no one had done so as of Monday evening.
Some of the initiatives outlined in the orders are not new. For example, the governor directed the state’s environmental agency to set up an electric vehicle rebate program that lawmakers had already passed as part of the transportation funding package earlier this year. Brown also called for the Oregon Public Utility Commission and other state agencies to follow through on mandates to boost electric vehicles as called for by a 2016 law. That law doubled Oregon’s renewable energy mandate and will require utilities to stop purchasing coal power.
There are new initiatives as well, however. The state will again change the low-carbon fuels program, to “support greater electric vehicle adoption,” and Oregon will use up to 15 percent of the state’s Volkswagen settlement over emissions test cheating to install electric vehicle charging stations. The state will come up with a plan to install electric vehicle chargers for both the state fleet and employee cars. It was unclear whether the governor planned to provide free access to state employees, but Oregon’s ethics commission has in the past found the state could only legally do so if it counted the charges as compensation.
Finally, the executive orders assign new tasks to Oregon’s much maligned Energy Department. Lawmakers and Brown have mostly ended the agency’s scandal ridden energy incentive programs over the years. But the governor’s executive orders would assign the agency more than a dozen new tasks, from tracking energy use at state buildings to helping ensure all new state buildings permitted starting in 2022 are carbon neutral.