Green Building News

Green Building News August 2005

August 15, 2005

Energy Act Delivers Good News, Bad News

President Bush signed the Energy Act of 2005 amid much fan fare and self congratulation last week. A White House press release said, "By supporting new energy efficient technologies, the government can offer every American better energy security at lower costs. More money is being spent on energy efficiency research today than ever before."

While the U.S. desperately needs a national energy policy, the Act looks more toward the past than to the future. Out of $14.5 billion in tax incentives, the act gives 92 percent ($13.2 billion) to fossil fuel, electric utility and nuclear industries. Energy conservation and renewable energy technologies split the remaining eight percent ($1.3 billion). The Act promotes conservation and renewables with several much needed initiatives (details below), but the lion's share of the budget goes to nuclear power for electric generation. Even the Bush Administration admits that the act does nothing to reduce gasoline prices. The Act falls far short of defining a much needed national energy policy.

One example of how the Act may be less than meets the eye concerns the credit for hybrid and lean-burn diesel vehicles. The credit offers $240 to $3400 from 2006 through 2010. However, funding is capped at the first 60,000 vehicles. With sales of the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic hybrids expected to be 74,000 in 2005 -- and climbing steadily -- the funding for the credit will last less than 10 months.

"The Energy Bill represents a failure of leadership by the administration and leadership in Congress," said Jeff Rickert, executive directory of the Apollo Alliance. "We urgently need a crash program to move America toward energy independence, while capturing the green markets of the future. In the absence of federal leadership, states and cities are taking on this issue, and for now our hopes for progress will rest there."

Apollo has called for a public investment of $300 billion over 10 years, with provisions to ensure domestic job creation and efficiency and environmental gains. It would create a new generation of high-paid industrial jobs, and reduce emissions that contribute to pollution and global warming.

The act, "while it makes some progress on energy efficiency, ducks the nation's most important energy challenges," said Bill Prindle deputy director of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

ACEEE's preliminary analysis shows that the oil savings in the bill are especially weak. While the Senate bill would have saved about one million barrels per day, or about 4 percent of total oil demand in 2020, the final legislation only about 100,000 barrels per day, less than one-half of one percent of 2020 oil use.

An extensive list of provisions is contained in an analysis by the Alliance to Save Energy.


Federal Tax Incentives Created for Efficient Buildings

efficiency in new and existing buildings. Residential buildings can receive:

  • $2,000 for solar water heaters and photovoltaic systems
  • $2,000 for new homes that save at least 50 percent compared to the IECC code
  • $500 for home improvements, $200 for windows
  • $300 for water heaters, air conditioners and heat pumps
  • $50 for furnace blowers
  • $150 for furnaces and boilers
  • $50 to $200 for energy efficient refrigerators, clothes washers and dishwashers

Commercial buildings can receive tax deductions up to $1.80 per square foot for new buildings designed to use 50% less energy than required by the 2001 ASHRAE 90.1 model commercial code. Business tax credits will also be available for fuel cells and microturbines.

Fueling facilities for ethanol, natural gas, compressed natural gas, propane, hydrogen and biodiesel (20 percent) can receive a 30 percent credit.


Efficiency Standards Raised for Federal Buildings, Purchasing

For the first time, congressional office buildings will be required to meet the same energy performance requirements as other federal buildings. Most government buildings must cut energy consumption per square foot 20 percent below their 2003 levels. Agencies may then keep the savings as long as they invest in additional energy efficiency or renewable energy projects.

Also, agencies will be required to buy energy efficient products. They must be either Energy Star labeled or designated as energy efficient by the Federal Energy Management Program.

New federal buildings are included as well. They must be designed to use 30 percent less energy compared to the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) or the appropriate standard form the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).


Solar Gets a Boost

For the first time in a generation, the federal government will offer income tax credits for new solar energy installations. But that's not all. The Energy Act of 2005 also clears a major obstacle to decentralized electric production by amending existing law to require every public electric utility to offer net metering. This means that utilties must purchase power from small-scale electric producers, such as photovoltaic and wind.

The new solar tax credit is 30 percent of the system cost up to $2,000, after taking into account state and utility incentives. Solar water heaters, except pool heaters, and photovoltaic systems installed in 2006 and 2007 are eligible.


Photovoltaic Equipment Suffers Supply Squeeze

Victims of their own success, many photovoltaic (PV) dealers are finding it difficult to find something to sell due to a worldwide shortage of PV modules. For years, dealers worked hard to drum up customers. Now, customers are abundant, but the product is scarce.

Demand for PV modules that turn sunlight into electricity has grown 40 percent in the last five years. Currently, the biggest market is Germany, where generous utility incentives championed by the Green Party prompted installation of nearly 400 megawatts of PV in the last year. Japan, where the government subsidizes PV, came in second at 300 megawatts. America's largest PV market is California, where 2004 saw 90 megawatts installed.

Demand is growing. California's Million Solar Roof program aims to put 3,000 megawatts in place by 2018. Starting next year, homeowners will be eligible for a $2,000 federal income tax credits for PV. Many electric utilities and state governments offer financial incentives, too. All this encouragement is having an effect.

Prices are growing too. Reversing recent trends of price declines due to improving technology, prices have increased as much as 15 percent. Industry representatives call this a classic case of supply and demand. They expect manufacturers to ramp up production, but can't say how long it will take for the situation to stabilize. — Source: New York Times


Lead May Leach from Plumbing Fixtures

Household fixtures, valves and other plumbing components may leach dangerous levels of lead into drinking water, despite a national safety standard intended to prevent it. A new study looked at the American National Standards Institute/National Sanitation Foundation 61 Section 8 standard — a protocol consisting of specific methods and test-water formulas that governments and industries have relied upon to ensure safe plumbing since 1988.

"As a result of problems identified with the test protocol, some products passing National Sanitation Foundation Section 8 may have a greater capacity to leach lead into water than we believed," said Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, who is one of the study leaders.

The researchers tested identical brass devices purchased from a local hardware store by subjecting the pieces to the Section 8 protocol and to modifications they made to the protocol. They also applied the same tests to a simulated plumbing device made of solid lead.

The results: The Section 8 water samples reacted less, or were less "aggressive," with lead in the plumbing than designers of the standard had intended. The researchers found other problems that stemmed from calculations that underlie some of the test results. Normalization factors allow evaluators to estimate actual lead concentrations at the tap, but they are affected by device size. Because of normalization and the non-aggressive waters, the small, simulated device made of pure lead pipe passed the Section 8 leaching test.

The scientists began to scrutinize the Section 8 methods after learning that one of the test solutions contains high concentrations of orthophosphate to buffer the water's pH. Water utilities use orthophosphate to inhibit lead leaching. So, test solutions containing such leaching inhibitors could not react adequately with plumbing and would produce a flawed reading.

Because lead softens alloys, it is an important component in many plumbing metals. Without adding small quantities of lead, manufacturers could not craft intricate shapes necessary for modern devices. Under certain chemical conditions, such as high acidity or low amounts of carbon dissolved from minerals, the devices can leach significant amounts of that lead into water. The problem is complex because treatments necessary to treat one water-quality problem, such as bacteria, can have unintended consequences, such as lead leaching.


AIA Names Green Award Recipients

In past years, it was called the AIA Top Ten. This year it's called the 2005 Green Project Awards. Whatever the name, this year the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment (COTE) recognizes these projects as best practice examples of a high-performance, sustainable design approach.

  • Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (City of Austin), Austin, TX
  • The Barn at Fallingwater (The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy), Mill Run, PA
  • Eastern Sierra House (Suzanne Johnson), Gardnerville, NV
  • Heimbold Visual Arts Center (Sarah Lawrence College), Bronxville, NY
  • Leslie Shao-Ming Sun Field Station (Stanford University), Woodside, CA
  • Pittsburgh Glass Center (Pittsburgh Glass Center), Pittsburgh, PA
  • Rinker Hall at the University of Florida (University of Florida), Gainesville, FL
  • Seminar II, The Evergreen State College (The Evergreen State College), Olympia, WA

Special Recognition for an Urban Design Plan

  • Lloyd Crossing Sustainable Design Plan (Portland Development Commission), Portland, OR


LEED-Homes Receives Home Depot Foundation Grant

The Home Depot Foundation gave a huge boost to the LEED-Homes program when it donated $375,000 for program development. The Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes Rating System is a voluntary initiative promoting the transformation of the mainstream home building industry toward more environmentally sound practices.

The grant supports the development of the LEED for Homes Rating System with a special Initiative for Affordable Housing that will include a reference manual; pilot demonstration of LEED for Homes in six markets; and new affordable housing training sessions at the Greenbuild International Conference and Exposition, an annual conference organized
by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), to be held in Atlanta this November.


Energy Simulation Software Upgraded

ENERGY-10™ Version 1.7 was recently released. This powerful energy simulation tool helps professionals make informed decisions about the energy performance of commercial buildings and homes. ENERGY-10™ is best used during the early phases of design, when sustainable building methods and materials can be integrated at lowest cost. However, it can also model existing buildings. The software helps identify the best combination of several energy-efficient strategies, including insulation levels, daylighting controls, passive solar heating and high-efficiency mechanical systems, to name a few. It usually takes less than an hour at a project’s outset to produce a simulation, but that small investment of time can result in energy savings of 40-70 percent. 

Version 1.7 offers many new features including:

  • New Window Construction Dialog, extensively revised to make it easier to directly use National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) window data. 
  • New HVAC System Types, expanded to include: “Variable Air Volume (VAV) DX Cooling” and “Fixed COP Heat Pump.” 
  • New International Weather Data.
  • 3D Bar Graphs, with most simple bar graphs now displayed in "3D" by default. 

The unique advantages of ENERGY-10™:

  • Allows you to integrate and assess dozens of energy-efficient design decisions quickly and accurately.
  • Helps you and your clients to see the actual dollar savings achieved through informed siting, materials selection and integrated, energy-efficient design.
  • Quantifies and clearly illustrates the impact of design decisions on first cost, operating costs and pollution prevention.
  • Helps you obtain energy credits under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED™ program. Output reports for “daylighting” and “total building energy use” facilitate the LEED™ submission process.
  • Has multiple levels of technical support, including free or hourly direct support for professionals seeking assistance with beginning through advanced simulations, and SBIC’s free ENERGY-10™ NetForum, which allows users to interact among themselves, discuss the program and share ideas.

ENERGY-10™ Version 1.7 is available for purchase online through the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council.


BetterBricks Awards Due Sept. 15th

The 2005 BetterBricks Awards recognize architects, engineers, developers, facility managers, service providers and other building professionals for their support, use and design of sustainable, high performance, commercial buildings in Oregon and Southwest Washington. BetterBricks Award winners will be awarded in multiple categories, focusing on the people behind the best projects in the Northwest.

Nominations for Portland are due September 15th. This year's nomination form is available online.

The 2005 BetterBricks Awards categories have changed slightly to reflect the importance of the entire building life-cycle to high performance. This year, the awards will recognize leading professionals who have demonstrated excellence in a number of areas that contribute to high performance buildings. These areas include energy savings, reduced building operation and maintenance costs, enhanced productivity of building occupants, consideration of climate, employing early design decision-making or supporting building commissioning.



August 1 , 2005

USGBC PVC Task Group Extends Comment Deadline

The US Green Building Council's PVC Task Group is extending the comment period for input on their policy for polyvinyl chloride building products until August 7th, 2005.  If you’d like to provide factual information (citations are required) please use the PVC Study Information Outreach Forum .  

Furniture Certification Announced

One of William McDonough's organizations—MBDC— has developed a new third-party certification for furniture. Called the Cradle to Cradle™ certification, it is targeted to companies that wish to differentiate their product within the marketplace.

MBDC evaluates a material or product's ingredients and the final product for its impacts on human and environmental health, as well as the capacity for the product to be truly recycled or safely composted. Certification of a finished product also requires a company to measure the quantity and quality of energy use (i.e., relative proportion of renewable energy), quantity of water use, quality of water effluent, and workplace ethics associated with manufacturing. If a candidate material or product is found to achieve the necessary criteria, it will be certified as a Technical/Biological Nutrient or as a Silver, Gold or Platinum product. MBDC also is creating a system for companies who have certified products to license the use of the Cradle to Cradle™ brand for marketing. August 15 is the deadline for submitting applications for initial certification review.

Massachusetts Joins Green Affordable Housing Initiative

The new Massachusetts Green Communities Initiative plans to build more environmentally-friendly, affordable housing that adheres to smart growth principles.

The state joined MassHousing, The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC), and The Enterprise Foundation to make available $209 million worth of incentives for 1,000 new environmentally-friendly homes in Massachusetts.

"Combining affordable housing and environmentally-friendly smart growth isn't just about dollars and cents. It's about promoting common sense," said Governor Mitt Romney. "By simultaneously investing in affordable housing and smart growth, Green Communities supports the economy while maintaining diversity and a healthy environment."

MassHousing will provide approximately $125 million in mortgage financing.

"These are exciting new additions to the menu of financing options available to housing developers in Massachusetts," said Tom Gleason, executive director of MassHousing. "The typical affordable housing developer usually is on a tight budget and doesn't have the money to explore green building techniques, but with these new resources they can do more."

The Enterprise Foundation (Enterprise) will provide up to $75 million in private equity to developers from the sale of low-income housing tax credits. Enterprise will also provide up to $500,000 in grants and loans for the pre-development, acquisition and construction of projects which meet specific green building criteria.

MTC will provide $8.5 million in grants specifically for renewable energy technologies such as photovoltaic panels, wind powered electricity generators, water-powered electricity generators and fuel cells that are used in the construction of affordable housing.

Massachusetts Green Communities is part of the National Green Communities Initiative. It is a five-year, $555 million commitment to build more than 8,500 environmentally responsive affordable homes.


Smartwood Makes a Difference

A new report by the Rainforest Alliance details the ways in which their own third-party forest product certification prompted improvements in the protection of forests, wildlife and stakeholder rights worldwide, as well as to the long-term economic viability of forestry operations. The report looked at 129 operations in 21 countries that were certified by Smartwood. Among the impacts of certification:

  • On average, certified operations were required to make changes affecting fifteen different forestry issues as a result of the certification assessment.
  • The ten issues that certified operations were required to address most often included three social issues (worker safety, training, and communication and conflict resolution with stakeholders), three environmental issues (aquatic and riparian areas, sensitive sites and high conservation value forests, and threatened and endangered species), and four systems issues (management plans, monitoring, chain of custody and inventory).
  • The most common environmental impacts of SmartWood certification were improved riparian and aquatic management (required of 63% of operations), improved treatment of sensitive sites and high conservation value forests (62%) and improved treatment of threatened and endangered species (62%).
  • The specific wording of over half of SmartWood conditions required substantive, on-the-ground change to occur (versus changes in procedures and processes).

The report also outlines social, economic, legal environmental and forest management impacts of the certification process.

"These results illustrate why SmartWood and FSC certification have caught on and are growing so fast," said the report’s co-author, Deanna Newsom of the Rainforest Alliance. "The rapid growth of forest certification reflects how the tangible positive environmental and social results of achieving compliance with these high standards also make good business sense, partly because consumers are increasingly demanding them, and partly because they make forestry operations more efficient, sustainable and ultimately more competitive."

Roughly 49 million acres has been certified as meeting Forest Stewardship Council standards by the SmartWood program, with much more in the pipeline. The global market for FSC-certified wood is currently worth over $5 billion, and certified wood and paper products are now carried by major retailers including Home Depot, IKEA, FedEx Kinko’s and many others. The full report, The Global Impacts of SmartWood Certification is available at the Smartwood Web site.


Wal-Mart Experiments with Environmentally-friendly Store

Falling prices aren't the only thing to look out for in Wal-Mart's new store in McKinney, Texas. The world's largest retailer is experimenting with environmentally-friendly features, energy use will be dropping too. Reduced energy use is one way the discount retailer hopes to save money using green features.

  • A windmachine and photovoltaic panels generate electricity.
  • Rainwater harvesting is expected to provide 95 percent of irrigation needs.
  • Waterless urinals in customer bathrooms will save one gallon per use.
  • Used engine oil from the auto center and cooking oil from the deli will be burned to heat the building.
  • Waste heat is recovered from refrigerated coolers.
  • Special ductwork more effectively moves conditioned air where it's needed.
  • Storm water retention ponds capture and filter parking lot runoff.
  • Shade trees have been planted in the parking lot.

Results of this experimental store, which opened last week, will be compared to another nearby store.

Environmentalists are skeptical, saying that the companies earlier environmental proclamations were never fulfilled. Will Wal-Mart make some of these green features part of the standard store package, or will this be an experiment and nothing more?

California Energy Use Rebounds

Three years after the west coast energy crisis, residents of California are again breaking records. California Energy Commission statistics show that electricity use per person increased almost 7 percent from 2001 to 2004. According to an article in the Orange County Register, consumers use four times more energy per person than Brazilians, because of a fascination with energy-sucking products, such as air-conditioners, extra refrigerators, spas, computers and stereos. In the summer of 2004, Californians broke the five-year-old record for peak electricity demand seven times. For many people, comfort is worth the extra money—on average $52 per month more in 2004 than 2001.


Hydro To Power Windsor Castle

Not just anyone can use the royal weir. But Queen Elizabeth II has just received a permit to install four hydroelectric turbines in an existing weir in the Thames River near Windsor Castle. The turbines will generate 200 kiloWatts, about a third of the power needed for the Queen's residence. Electricity from the project will go straight to the castle and not the utility grid. The underwater turbines are expected to be silent and almost invisible above water. A similar hydro project is planned for Balmoral Castle, home to Prince Charles. This is the latest environmental project for the Royal Family. Prince Phillip tools around town in a taxi powered by natural gas and Buckingham Palace uses high efficiency lighting, too.


Oregon Reaches One Megawatt PV Milestone

Using a creative combination of financing, homes and businesses in Oregon are sprouting solar panels faster than ever before. Since 2003, Oregon’s photovoltaic (PV) generation has grown by one megawatt, serving more than 250 homes, businesses and public organizations. This progress has been made possible by the solar electric program from Energy Trust of Oregon, Inc., and energy tax credits managed by the Oregon Department of Energy.

Energy Trust has provided more than $3 million in direct incentives to homeowners and businesses installing solar energy systems since 2002. It has $1 million more to offer through this year and expects to invest another $2 million in 2006.

“Oregon has installed more solar electric systems in the last two and a half years than it did in the last 20 years combined,” said Kacia Brockman, solar program manager, Energy Trust. “Homeowners and businesses around the state are demonstrating every day that solar can be a significant part of our goal to generate 10 percent of Oregon’s energy with clean, renewable resources like solar.”

Energy Trust offers incentives of up to $10,000 to homeowners and up to $35,000 for businesses investing in solar photovoltaic systems through network qualified installers. Larger systems may be considered for an incentive through Energy Trust’s Open Solicitation program. Energy Trust incentives are in addition to available state and federal tax credits. Solar photovoltaic systems are highly reliable and require virtually no maintenance. Systems can range from an array of solar panels to roof-integrated photovoltaic cells. Solar panels are warranted to perform for at least 20 years and can operate for even longer with minimal upkeep.

A combination of tax credits, financial incentives, and attractive loan terms — and the prospect of eliminating all of their electric bills —prompted Pepsi-Cola of Klamath Falls to install the largest PV system in the Northwest.

“The tax benefits for installing a solar electric system are substantial and the prospect of making all the electricity we need is appealing,” said John Bocchi. “I don’t know why more businesses aren’t taking advantage of this. It makes financial sense and it’s the right thing to do.” The Bocchi family, which owns the company, received $210,000 in financial incentives from Energy Trust, $444,412 in Business Energy Tax Credits from the Oregon Department of Energy, an accelerated state and federal tax depreciation schedule and a financing package from the Oregon Energy Loan Program. Bocchi estimates that Pepsi will export about 50,000 kilowatt hours of electricity to the Pacific Power grid per year after satisfying its own internal loads.

Most systems are considerably smaller than the one in Klamath Falls. Eric Denzler of Bend installed a smaller, three-kilowatt system in November 2003. “Three kilowatts makes a huge impact on our utility bill,” said Denzler. Since the system was installed on his home, Denzler has seen his solar photovoltaic system reduce his bill 25 percent during the winter. In the summer, the system generates enough power to virtually eliminate his electric bill altogether, “We’ve even had some bills with a negative number.” Denzler received the maximum residential solar incentive from Energy Trust and an Oregon state energy tax credit of $1,500.

“Energy Trust is creating lasting value in Oregon’s solar industry by bringing a high level of quality assurance to the marketplace,” said Christopher Dymond, Senior Energy Analyst, Oregon Department of Energy. “What I like the most about the Energy Trust’s solar program is that it is not just about rebates, it’s also about building trade skills which is a good complement to Oregon’s energy tax credit program.”

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