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Assemblyman Philip Y. Ting. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Energy Efficient School HVAC, Electric Car Bill Approaches Committee Vote

Opposition against AB 841 begins to mount in Legislature

By Evan Symon, August 18, 2020 6:22 am

This week, a bill that proposes to both update heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in schools to more energy efficient units and accelerate approvals for electric and zero-emission vehicle infrastructure will face one of the final votes needed for legislative approval nearly 18 months after first being introduced in the Assembly.

A multi-faceted, energy efficiency-based bill

Assembly Bill 841, authored by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would specifically require the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to come to final decisions by March 2021 over new zero-emission vehicle infrastructure, such as EV chargers for electric cars. AB 841 would essentially have all charging stations, or places that offer charging, to have separate charging meter infrastructure by mid-2021. Charging stations would only be installed by licensed contractors with one person installing such EV infrastructure having Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program certification.

The bill also tackles HVAC systems in schools. AB 841 would give schools, through the School Energy Efficiency Stimulus Program, funding to put in more energy efficient and better ventilated HVAC systems. Inefficient and non-compliant plumbing systems would also be replaced with less wasteful systems.

The PUC would have the funding through 2023 for the School Energy Efficiency Stimulus Program and would also tie in energy companies to help find the best systems for schools. 25% of all new systems will be allocated for schools in underserved communities, with those schools being prioritized for newer systems.

Assemblyman Ting originally wrote the bill to push forward energy conservation, reduced energy bills for schools, lowered pollution output, and the addition of more green jobs. However, the advent of COVID-19 highlighted the need for schools to have better air quality and to prevent COVID-19. After a year of inactivity, the approaching school dates reinvigorated the bill in June with Assemblyman Ting amending the bill to better underscore the COVID-19 need.

This led to AB 841 being passed by the Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee earlier this month.

“More green jobs under CA’s Economic Stimulus Plan!,” exclaimed Assemblyman Ting after the Committee vote. “A Senate committee passed my bill, AB 841, temporarily redirecting energy efficient funds to improve HVAC systems at schools, which can help prevent the spread of COVID-19; the bill also speeds up approvals for EV chargers.”

Opposition grows against AB 841

While the bill originally had unanimous, bipartisan support when it was a water safety bill last year, the changed priorities of the bill have largely split the vote. Many GOP legislators have opposed the bill due to AB 841 adding two issues together in one bill, and lingering questions over whether HVAC systems even need replacing in many schools. The need for additional temporary spending and department expansions during such an economically critical time has also been questioned by many in Sacramento.

“The bill almost has a rider built right in, ” noted lawyer Megan Kirsch in a Globe interview. “One part is on electric cars, the other is air conditioning for schools. One part meets that exception for COVID-19 bills this session while the other doesn’t.

“When I was reading through this that’s the first thing that crossed my mind. How much this was packing in one bill with things that didn’t have to do with each other.”

“I can see how many Senators alone voted against this in committee. No one votes against children’s safety, right? Especially during a pandemic? Well this just adds in something else too, and that’s not right. And that’s the way many legislators see that. It’s not right.”

“We have a few weeks left until the end of the session, so we’ll see just how much farther this gets. A lot of legislators see this bill for what it is, and it’s sad because improving A/C units for schools, especially with a heat wave like this going, is very beneficial. But it’s dumping in other projects.”

Despite uncertainty over the bill, AB 841 is expected to maintain a majority of support in both the Assembly and Senate.

AB 841 is expected to be heard before the Senate Appropriations Committee very soon.

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