State and Local Building Efficiency Regulations & Policies: California

In this series, we’re exploring state and local building efficiency regulations to give you a bird’s-eye view of the policies that may impact your portfolio.

California. We saved the Golden State for last!

California has it all: great weather, natural beauty, and incredible biodiversity. It also boasts the largest population in the United States and a higher GDP than the United Kingdom. 

As the familiar saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Fortunately, when it comes to the environment, California has taken its responsibility seriously, and can truly be considered a global environmental leader. 

To wit: California is one of the largest energy consumers in the United States, second only to Texas. But unlike the Lone Star State, California has taken sweeping action at both the state and local levels, putting forth a slate of energy and environmental programs that are on par with leading European climate initiatives. It has set a 60 percent renewable energy target by 20301 and a GHG emissions reduction target of 40 percent (below 1990 levels) by 2030. It also aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. In 2013, California became the first state in the nation to launch its own cap-and-trade program; the program now ranks as the fourth largest in the world.2 And that’s just the beginning. 

Since approximately 25 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions come from energy use in commercial and residential buildings, California has established ambitious zero net energy goals. All new commercial construction and 50 percent of commercial building stock must achieve net zero by 2030.3 CALGreen is the first state-mandated green building code in the nation, and the California Energy Commission estimates that its 2019 standards will reduce the state’s residential building energy use by 50 percent and non-residential energy use by 30 percent. 

Additionally, cities and counties across California adopt new building codes every three years, and can choose to adopt local “reach codes” (i.e. codes that go beyond the state-mandated level) at any time.4 One such example is San Francisco’s Green Building Code (SFGBC), which has risen to the challenge by requiring all-electric new construction (see below for more info).

Building energy requirements and programs in California are extensive to say the least. To help make sense of it all, we’ve done the heavy lifting, compiling California’s key building energy requirements, policies, and plans in one place for easy reference. If your goal is to kick start a new west coast ESG initiative, keep reading for the full list. 

 For more information on voluntary incentive programs5 across the state, please see the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency including solar initiative programs and net metering initiatives.6

Learn more about how Aquicore makes it easy to collect the energy data needed to comply with local, city, and state benchmarking regulations.

State / City / CountyNameType of Regulation / Policy / InitiativeDescriptionEffective Date
California2019 CALGreen CodeEnergy Efficiency 
(New Construction)
CALGreen is California’s first green building code and first in the nation state-mandated green building code.  This code includes provisions to ensure the reduction of water use by 20%, improve indoor air quality, divert 50% of new construction waste from landfills, and inspect energy systems (i.e. heat furnace, air conditioner, mechanical equipment) for nonresidential buildings over 10,000 square feet to make sure that they’re working according to design. It is formally known as the California Green Building Standards Code, Title 24, Part 11, of the California Code of Regulations.  CALGreen was recently updated to include updated building electrification requirements. Became Mandatory in 2011; Recently updated in 2019
CaliforniaExecutive Order B-18-12Energy Efficiency (State-owned Buildings)New or major renovated State buildings and build-to-suit leases larger than 10,000 square feet obtain LEED “Silver” certification or higher, using the applicable version of LEED.2012
CaliforniaExecutive Order B-18-12
Energy Efficiency (New Construction for State-owned Buildings)
All new State buildings and major renovations beginning design after 2025 be constructed as Zero Net Energy facilities with an interim target for 50% of new facilities beginning design after 2020 to be Zero Net Energy. Applies to State buildings beginning design after 2020 and 2025
CaliforniaExecutive Order B-18-12Energy Efficiency (Existing State-owned Buildings)50 percent of existing state building area shall achieve ZNE by 2025.2012

Commissioning RequirementsEnergy Efficiency (New Construction)New non-residential buildings are required to meet commissioning requirements outlined in Section 120.8 of the Energy Code.Became Mandatory in 2011; Recently updated in 2019
CaliforniaAssembly Bill 802 Energy BenchmarkingUtility companies serving California, commercial and multifamily buildings greater than 50,000 square feet must track and report their annual energy use in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. Utilities must provide buildings with aggregated whole-building energy usage data for building owners to report, annually.  For more information, click here.2015
CaliforniaGreen Building Action PlanEnergy Efficiency and Benchmarking (State agencies)State agencies implement the measures described in the accompanying Green Building Action Plan to include: 1. new and re-negotiated state building leases include sub-meters and 2. benchmark energy and water data in Energy Star Portfolio Manager, annually.
CaliforniaExecutive Order B-18-12Energy Efficiency (State-owned Buildings)New and existing state-owned buildings must incorporate building commissioning to facilitate improved and efficient building operation.2012
CaliforniaExecutive Order B-18-12Energy Efficiency (Existing State-owned Buildings)State agencies must identify and pursue opportunities to provide electric vehicle charging stations, and accommodate future charging infrastructure demand, at employee parking facilities in new and existing buildings.2012
CaliforniaExecutive Order B-18-12Renewables (State-owned Buildings)Any proposed new or major renovation of State buildings larger than 10,000 square feet use clean, on-site power generation, such as solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, and wind power generation, and clean backup power supplies, if economically feasible.2012
CaliforniaImplementation of Executive Order B-18-12Energy Efficiency (Existing State-owned Buildings)State buildings must provide renewable energy from onsite and/or offsite sources that generate as much clean renewable energy on an annual basis as the building/facility uses during the year.
Preference to onsite generation when possible or feasible to reduce environmental impact.
Offsite generation is acceptable from in-state sources, with a long-term (20-year minimum) purchase agreement. All Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) shall be retired on behalf of the state.
CaliforniaImplementation of Executive Order B-18-12Energy Efficiency (Existing State-owned Buildings)State agencies participate in “demand response” programs to obtain financial benefits for reducing peak electrical loads when called upon, to the maximum extent that is cost-effective for each State-owned or leased facility, and does not materially adversely affect agency operations.
CaliforniaPublic Contract Code Sections 3500-3505),
Buy Clean California Act

Embodied Carbon
The Department of General Services (DGS) is required to establish and publish the maximum acceptable Global Warming Potential (GWP) limit for select construction materials.
CaliforniaEnergy Efficiency (health and well-being)State agencies purchase and use environmentally preferable products that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing goods that serve the same purpose whenever they are applicable, perform well, and are cost-effective per Public Contract Code section 12400.
Los Angeles, CACalifornia Building Efficiency StandardsEnergy Efficiency (New Construction)Los Angeles adopted the 2016 Building Energy Efficiency Standards and the 2017 Los Angeles Green Building Code.
Los Angeles, CAOrdinance No. 182259Energy Efficiency (City-owned Existing Buildings)All city-owned buildings greater than 7,500 square feet or built before 1978 are to be retrofitted to achieve LEED for Existing Buildings Silver certification or higher (pending federal funds). At least half of the buildings retrofitted are located in high-poverty and high-unemployment areas.2012
Los Angeles, CABuy Clean California ActBuilding Efficiency (Municipal buildings)Los Angeles requires all new municipal buildings to be carbon-neutral. 
Los Angeles, CAExisting Buildings Energy and Water Efficiency Program Building Energy Performance and AuditsMunicipal buildings (more than 7,500 square feet) and privately owned and state agency buildings (located in the city more than 20,000 square feet) must provide proof of compliance with performance goals or follow compliance options, which can include ASHRAE Level II audits or retro-commissioning.2016
Los Angeles, CAExisting Buildings Energy and Water Efficiency Program Energy BenchmarkingMunicipal buildings (more than 7,500 square feet) and privately owned and state agency buildings (located in the city more than 20,000 square feet) must track and report their annual energy and water use using ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager.  Benchmarking data will be publicly disclosed.2016
Los Angeles, CALADWP Net Metering programEnergy EfficiencyLADWP allows its customers to net meter their photovoltaic (PV), wind, and hybrid systems with a capacity of not more than one megawatt.
San FranciscoTitle 24 Part 11, the California Green Building Standards Code, or “CALGreen
SFGBC Chapter 7
Energy Efficiency 
(New Construction & Major Renovation)
The combination of CALGreen and local requirements is referred to as the San Francisco Green Building Code (SFGBC). SFGBC is regularly updated and includes stricter requirements than CALGreen such as: 1. All-Electric New Construction, 2. Install solar electric, thermal, or green roof for all new buildings 10 floors in height or less 3. Provide on-site facilities for collection and conveyance of compost  in addition to recycling, 4. Wire buildings to be capable of supplying electricity for electric vehicle charging at 100 percent of new parking spaces and 5. Meet city green building requirements tied to the LEED and GreenPoint Rated green building rating systems. See more info below and here.

2008, amended thereafter 
San Francisco, CASan Francisco’s Residential Energy Conservation OrdinanceEnergy Efficiency (Existing Buildings Retrofit Requirements)Prior to selling a property, homeowners are required to obtain a valid inspection, install basic energy and water conservation devices or materials and obtain a certificate of compliance.
San Francisco, CAAB-093 Implementation of Green Building RegulationsEnergy Efficiency (New Construction)Residential and commercial buildings must meet low-energy use requirements. New residential buildings must achieve GreenPoint Rated v7.0 certification, multifamily high-rises must achieve LEED silver or higher and new commercial buildings must achieve LEED Gold or higher.Effective January 1, 2020
San Francisco, CASan Francisco Environment Code Chapter 20Energy BenchmarkingAll commercial buildings 10,000 square feet and greater and multifamily buildings 50,000 square feet and greater to benchmark energy data in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. The Summary report will include 1-100 Performance Rating and greenhouse gas emissions from energy usage. Click here for an overview. 2011
San Francisco, CASan Francisco Environment Code Chapter 20 SEC 2002Energy AuditNonresidential buildings must complete an audit once every 5 years to identify energy saving and retro-commissioning opportunities. Nonresidential buildings greater than 50,000 square feet must receive an ASHRAE Level II audit and buildings greater than 10,000 square feet must receive an ASHRAE Level I audit. Click here for an overview. 2011, Amended in 2019
San Francisco, CAE-02 Electric Vehicle Charging StationTransportationNew buildings must install EV-ready infrastructure for 20 percent of parking spaces.December 2021
Berkeley, CALEED RequirementEnergy Efficiency (New Construction and Major Renovations)All new construction or renovation projects funded by the city (or located on city-owned land of 5,000 square feet or more of occupied space, which have a construction estimate of $200,000 or more in 2003 dollars) must receive a minimum LEED Silver rating. New buildings and additions in the downtown area require LEED Gold certification
San Jose, CAOrdinance 30502Energy Efficiency (New Construction)Prohibits natural gas infrastructure in newly constructed buildings. For more information, click here.Updated ordinance effective August 1, 2021
San Jose, CAEnergy and Water Building Performance OrdinanceEnergy BenchmarkingCity buildings more than 15,000 square feet, commercial and multifamily buildings more than 20,000 square feet must track and report their annual energy and water use using the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager2018
San Jose, CAEnergy and Water Building Performance Ordinance

San Jose Code of Ordinances, Chapter 17.85.400
Starting in 2023, building owners will be required to demonstrate either building efficiency or improvement in annual cohorts specified by the ordinance (San José Code of Ordinances, Chapter 17.85.400). If an owner can demonstrate that a covered building meets key performance standards through yearly benchmarking, the owner can then submit a Performance Verification Report. If a building is not able to meet these standards, the owner can perform an energy audit, re-tuning or targeted efficiency upgrade to improve performance.Starting in 2023
Santa Cruz, CASolar Access Ordinance TEXT 

Energy Efficiency (New Construction)Before a development plan can be approved in the City of Santa Cruz, the site plan must demonstrate that orientation and location of buildings, structures, open spaces and other features preserve solar access of adjacent properties. In addition, buildings and structures should be designed and oriented to make use of natural elements such as solar radiation, wind and landscaping for heating, cooling and ventilation. Developers must also show that heating systems for hot tubs and swimming pools are solar when possible, and in all cases, energy efficient.
Santa Cruz, CASolar Energy Systems Ordinance Summary 
Santa Cruz County Code, Chapter 12.28 Solar Access Protection
Solar energy systems must be protected from shading by vegetation and structures.
San Diego, CABuilding Energy BenchmarkingEnergy BenchmarkingCommercial, multifamily, and mixed-use buildings more than 50,000 square feet, multifamily and mixed-use buildings with more than 17 residential accounts must track and report annual energy use in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager.  Benchmarking data will be publicly disclosed.2019
San Diego, CADesign Standards for County Facilities and Property G-15Energy Efficiency (New Construction)All new county buildings or major building renovations obtain U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED Building Certification. Click here for more information.
County of San DiegoDesign Standards for County Facilities and Property G-15Energy Efficiency (New Construction)All new facilities and major renovations must be built to Zero Net Energy. Zero Net Energy refers to a facility where annual energy production is equal to energy consumption.

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