Golden considers a net-zero policy for new construction

Corinne Westeman
Posted 3/17/23

Within a year or two, all new buildings in Golden could be free of fossil fuels and generate their own electricity with renewable energy sources. That means everything from single-family homes to large industrial complexes would be net zero.

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Golden considers a net-zero policy for new construction


Within a year or two, all new buildings in Golden could be free of fossil fuels and generate their own electricity with renewable energy sources. That means everything from single-family homes to large industrial complexes would be net zero.

Officials are drafting ordinance language to require net-zero construction in Golden, and City Council is expected to consider it later this year.

Under the proposal, all new buildings would generate their own electricity via solar panels and wouldn’t have any natural gas utilities.

While this proposal only applies to new construction, Golden has long-term goals toward existing buildings. The city wants to achieve 100% renewable energy for electricity by 2030, and 100% renewable for heating by 2050, according to its 2020 Sustainability Strategic Plan.

In the coming weeks, the Community Sustainability Advisory Board and the Planning Commission will cohost three community meetings to gather public feedback on this net-zero construction proposal.

The meetings will be March 27, April 3 and April 18, and each will be at 6-8:30 p.m. at City Hall.

According to Theresa Worsham, the city’s sustainability manager, each meeting will focus on a different subtopic within the overall net-zero construction proposal.

  • The March 27 meeting will discuss the proposed renewable energy requirements for all new construction, including single-family homes. The meeting will explore instances where installing solar panels or other renewable energy sources isn’t feasible, and what alternatives could be established, such as a cash-in-lieu system or participation in a solar garden.
  • The April 3 meeting will discuss the proposed all-electric requirements in new construction, meaning new buildings wouldn’t have any natural gas utilities. Worsham said city officials want to hear about what kind of hardships people might have building without natural gas, and explore what “alternative compliant pathways” might look like.
  • The April 18 meeting will take a closer look at what exactly falls under “new construction,” as Worsham said. While the easiest definition is anything built on a vacant lot, Worsham said Goldenites need to examine whether and how that should include additions, remodels and other projects.

CSAB has been working on this proposal for several months, and recently brought it to City Council. During the meeting, public comment on net-zero construction was mixed. Most applauded the general effort, but had questions or concerns about the exact language and applicability. One person wondered how it’d apply to historic buildings that undergo remodels or construct additions.

Those are exactly the type of things city officials and community members will discuss at these meetings, Worsham said.

“We want to have some common sense about it,” she said of implementing a net-zero construction policy. “ … For all new construction across the board, we want those new buildings to be responsible, to generate their energy onsite, and be the most efficient that they can be.”

As Colorado and the United States experience more natural disasters and other threats to utilities, Worsham emphasized how important it is for Goldenites to have energy independence and resiliency. Even if a project can’t install enough solar panels to cover 100% of its usage, “at least it’s giving some relief and resiliency,” she continued.

Between local, state and federal incentives, solar panels are more affordable than ever, she stated. They also are very resilient against weather, including hail. In the last 15 years, Worsham said she’s only had to replace a few panels because of vandalism but not weather.

Solar panels can last up to 30 years, and a solar-powered electric system typically pays for itself in seven to nine years, she said. The solar panels on the city’s buildings generate 650 kilowatts, and Golden installed the bulk of them in 2014.

Right now, seven of the city’s buildings are net-zero, so it can be done.

Colorado School of Mines also has numerous solar panels on its campus, including a relatively new solar canopy over the parking lot near Stermole Soccer Stadium. By the end of this year, Mines officials estimate all its solar panels will generate 5-6% of the university's total electric usage.

As cities around Colorado and the United States look to become more sustainable, Worsham said a lot of communities are discussing similar net-zero construction policies. Golden and several neighboring cities are going to have to draft their own plans on when and how to implement these goals, she described.

After the community meetings this spring, Worsham said city officials will continue drafting the ordinance language. They’ll likely bring it before City Council in the last few months of 2023, she estimated.

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