Electric Shock: Illinois Building Code Update Sparks Fiery Debate with All-Electric Rejection

Illinois Building Standards Board Rejects All-Electric Code, Opts for Voluntary Compliance amid Northern Trend

Illinois’ Building Standards Board Rejects All-Electric Code

In a significant development, the governing board in Illinois responsible for overseeing building standards has opted not to adopt the all-electric code. This code, referred to as the “all-voluntary electrical code,” pertains to regulations governing electrical systems and installations in buildings that are optional for compliance.

This decision comes at a time when there is a growing trend in northern Illinois, particularly in Chicago communities, to reduce the use of natural gas in new construction projects. The Illinois International Code Council (ICC) found itself in a legal tussle with the Federal Court over this matter. The ICC had initially included an optional all-electric construction code in its 2024 International Energy Conservation Code, which serves as the standard model for building codes nationwide.

However, a landmark ruling by the US Court led to the reversal of this code, prompting significant repercussions from the ICC board of directors. The advisory council of experts, responsible for updating the state’s building codes, had initially integrated the all-electric option into the Illinois stretch energy code. But on March 20, the Illinois Capital Development Board (CDB) – appointed by the governor – decided to remove the all-electric appendix from the stretch code due to concerns about potential legal liabilities for communities.

As a result of this decision, Illinois communities may now lack a standardized method for enforcing all-electric new construction. The implications of this ruling, as reported by S&P Global Market Intelligence, are profound. The ICC warned cities and states that adopting the draft all-electric provision in the 2024 international code could pose a “significant risk” of conflicting with federal laws.

The conflict between the ICC and the CDB underscores the broader impact on efforts to decarbonize buildings. This ruling could have repercussions beyond Illinois, affecting Western US states and territories. It also sets a precedent challenging local electrification mandates nationwide. Illinois, while striving for sustainability through the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA), faces a dilemma in balancing state goals with federal preemption.

The CDB’s Energy Conservation Advisory Council has developed a stretch code in Illinois aligned with CEJA’s objectives. This optional code aims to exceed the state’s energy conservation standards while adhering to international codes. It is designed to enhance building efficiency and reduce emissions, but the removal of the all-electric appendix raises concerns about a unified approach to sustainable construction in the state.

The push for energy efficiency and decarbonization in new construction projects, particularly in Chicago and neighboring areas, was emphasized by local government representatives during a meeting on March 20. They stressed the importance of such measures and the reliance on state expertise to develop feasible model ordinances.

The electrification debate in Illinois highlights the need to strike a balance between different viewpoints. While some advocate for 100% electrification, others argue for flexibility and affordability, citing potential cost burdens and threats to energy affordability. Efficiency measures, such as incentivizing heat pump installations, are crucial according to proponents of electrification.

Climate experts stress the importance of prioritizing energy efficiency and sustainability to achieve climate objectives. The Illinois stretch code maintains the all-electric provision, signaling a continued focus on promoting energy-efficient solutions. Stakeholders must reconcile conflicting interests to advance sustainable development goals.

Illinois has set a target of achieving 100% clean energy by 2050, with a plan to reduce GHG emissions by 60% before 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Despite ongoing debates, the state remains committed to promoting energy-efficient solutions and sustainable development.

As Illinois navigates through legal and environmental challenges, the upcoming 2025 update mandated by CEJA will provide an opportunity to reassess contentious issues surrounding the all-electric move. The hope is that decisions made will pave the way for a greener future not only for Illinois but for the entire nation.

[Disclaimer: The data referenced in this article is sourced from S&P Global Market Intelligence.]

Matt Lyons

Matt Lyons

Matt Lyons is the founder of Forestry & Carbon. Matt has over 25 years as a forestry consultant and is invoilved in numerous carbon credit offset projects.

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