Fortis BC questions Vancouver’s step code alignment claim


A voluntary program establishing progressive energy efficiency performance targets came into effect in British Columbia in April. The B.C. Energy Step Code is designed to encourage the transformation from the previous energy-efficiency requirements in the B.C. Building Code to net zero energy ready buildings by 2032.

On April 29 the City of Vancouver issued a statement that controversial new requirements in the Vancouver Building Code that set performance targets higher than can be met with natural gas equipment are in alignment with the new provincial code. That brought a quick response from FortisBC, the gas utility, stating:

“The City of Vancouver misrepresented the provincial B.C. Energy Step Code. The provincial step code focuses on increasing energy efficiency in buildings and appliances. This is fuel neutral, meaning that builders and customers can continue to choose their energy source, including natural gas. These provincial targets are voluntary and intended to be introduced gradually over time.”

“Conversely, the City of Vancouver’s approach, while also addressing efficiency, focuses on reducing emissions between 50 to 70 per cent in rezoned buildings starting May 1. This will effectively eliminate the use of natural gas for space and water heating in rezoned buildings.”

“To state that the provincial and City of Vancouver energy policies are aligned is incorrect and misleading.”

“FortisBC strongly supports repealing the ban on natural gas in the City of Vancouver. Our more than 100,000 Vancouver customers should have the right to choose their energy source. Natural gas is a clean and affordable energy option.”

Ending the regulation patchwork

The new provincial code establishes a set of incremental performance steps for new buildings. Local governments can use it to encourage—or require—the construction of more energy-efficient buildings in their communities, and do so in consistent predictable ways.

The Step Code takes a performance-based approach rather than the traditional prescriptive approach. This means that it does not specify how to construct a building, but identifies an energy-efficiency target that must be met and lets the designer/builder decide how to meet it.

The Step Code applies only to new construction of residential (Part 9) buildings and multi-unit residential and commercial (business and personal services and mercantile) – only in climate Zone 4 (i.e., Lower Mainland, southern Vancouver Island, southern Okanagan).

In addition to its energy efficiency goals, it is designed to bring uniformity to a patchwork of municipal energy efficiency requirements across the province, said Andrew Pape-Salmon, executive director, B.C. Building and Safety Standards Branch.

“On Dec. 15, Section 5 of the Building Act will render local government bylaws with technical building requirements of no legal force, unless the bylaws concern what the Building Act calls ‘unrestricted matters.’  Local governments wishing to require higher energy-efficiency standards than those in the B.C. Building Code may now do so in a consistent and predictable way using the B.C. Energy Step Code.

“Two matters have been added to the Building Act General Regulation’s unrestricted matters list to support local government use of the B.C. Energy Step Code: the conservation of energy and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

These two matters are unrestricted with two conditions:

  • Local governments may not require buildings to be constructed except in conformance to a step in sections or of Division B of the British Columbia Building Code, and
  • Local governments may not modify the requirements or impose requirements in addition to those in sections 9.36.6. or 10.2.3. of Division B of the British Columbia Building Code.

British Columbia has established the multi-stakeholder Energy Step Code Council to support local governments and industry towards smooth implementation of code with research, training, communications and policy guidance for stakeholders.


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