Green Building News

Green Building News October 2008

October 1, 2008

Berkeley Financing Solar Energy and Energy Efficiency

Berkeley, CA is set to become the first city in the nation to allow property owners to pay for energy efficiency improvements and solar system installation as a long-term assessment on their individual property tax bill. In November 2006, the City Council approved the framework for a “Sustainable Energy Financing District”. The solar financing program offered by the City of Berkeley starts at the end of October 2008.

Initial funding covers 40 installations distributed throughout the city. Up to $37,500 of financing will be provided per installation for either residential or commercial properties citywide. This pilot phase lets the city evaluate the program and determine whether another round of funding can be made available.

Installations of solar electric and solar thermal systems are cost effective for many residential and commercial property owners with the existing state and federal subsidies. The Berkeley Plan eliminates the two major financial hurdles to solar electric and solar water systems – the high upfront cost and the possibility that those costs will not be recovered when the property is sold.

“Nearly every expert we have worked with on this financing initiative believes it can fundamentally change the market for solar,” said Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates. “There are more than 400 solar installations in Berkeley today. With this program, I think we can install thousands of solar systems over the next decade and go a long way to meeting our greenhouse gas emission reduction targets."

“Nearly every day we meet potential customers who think they can’t afford a solar energy system. With Berkeley’s financing plan in place, just about any home or business owner who can afford to pay their utility bill every month should be able to go solar.” said Gary Gerber, President of Sun Light & Power, a solar installation company in Berkeley.

The Sustainable Energy Financing District was developed as part of the City’s implementation of Measure G – last year’s ballot measure setting greenhouse gas reduction targets for Berkeley and directing the Mayor to lead the development of a plan to meet those targets.

The financing mechanism is loosely based on existing “underground utility districts” where the City serves as the financing agent for a neighborhood when they move utility poles and wires underground. In this case, individual property owners would contract directly with qualified private solar installers and contractors for energy efficiency and solar projects on their building. The City provides the funding for the project from a bond or loan fund that it repays through assessments on participating property owners’ tax bills for 20 years.

No property owner would pay an assessment unless they had work done on their property as part of the program. Those who choose to pay for solar and energy efficiency work through this program would pay only for the cost of their project, interest and a small administrative fee.

The Financing District solves many of the financial hurdles facing property owners. First, there would be little upfront cost to the property owner. Second, the total cost of the solar system and energy improvements may be less when compared to financing through a traditional equity line or mortgage refinancing because the well-secured bond will provide lower interest rates than is commercially available. Third, the tax assessment is transferable between owners. Therefore, if you sell your property prior to the end of the 20-year repayment period, the next owner takes over the assessment as part of their property tax bill.

13th Annual National Solar Tour Sparks a Solar Energy Revolution

Economic uncertainty and skyrocketing energy prices help ignite record interest in solar energy as part of the 13th annual National Solar Tour, ramping up on October 4, 2008 in 48 states, boosting demand for solar across the U.S.

As families tighten their belts to ride the latest economic roller coaster, an unprecedented number of homeowners are learning how to go solar and save on monthly utility bills by attending the National Solar Tour, the largest grassroots solar energy event in history.

The nonprofit American Solar Energy Society (ASES) is bringing together as many as 150,000 citizens to tour some 5,000 homes and businesses in 48 states to learn about money-saving technologies as part of its 13th annual National Solar Tour on October 4.

The National Solar Tour features property-owners who open their doors to neighbors to share how they are using the latest solar technologies to drastically reduce monthly energy bills, reduce harmful carbon emissions and enjoy tax credits and cash incentives as they improve their property values.

Amid a struggling U.S. economy, these powerful open-house tours and neighbor-to-neighbor discussions show everyday people how they can combat soaring energy prices with solar energy and energy efficiency - while generating green-collar jobs across the U.S.

"The National Solar Tour highlights how families are using solar energy to fight back against skyrocketing energy costs," said Neal Lurie, Director of Marketing for ASES. "Participants come in curious, but they leave convinced ready to go solar."

According to survey results from last year’s National Solar Tour, 76 percent of participants said they are definitely or very likely to invest in solar or energy efficient technology after the Tour, compared to 50 percent before the Tour. A stunning 74 percent of participants indicated that they had never visited a solar or green-built home prior to this event. Last year’s National Solar Tour attracted more than 115,000 people in 2,900 communities in 46 U.S. states.

The National Solar Tour will take place on Saturday, October 4, 2008 in most locations (and other dates in October) in conjunction with National Solar Energy Awareness Month, which is October.

The National Solar Tour is coordinated by the American Solar Energy Society in partnership with dozens of outstanding solar organizations. Solar businesses are encouraged to get involved to help promote solar tours in their community. Details on the specific dates and times of tours across the nation are at:


Green Building Awards Nominations Now Open

The 2009 NAHB National Green Building Awards will honor excellence in green residential design and construction practices and outstanding green advocacy efforts.

"Home builders and housing industry professionals are instrumental in the adoption of sustainable building practices that benefit home owners, the environment and the economy," said Ray Tonjes, chairman of the NAHB Green Subcommittee and a green remodeler and builder in Austin, Texas. "We look forward to honoring their commitment to green building, and sharing their innovative best practices with the residential construction industry."

Awards will be given in several categories: Advocate of the Year (Builder, Remodelor, Individual, Group); Green Project of the Year (Single-family, Remodel, Multifamily); Green Development of the Year; HBA Green Building Program of the Year; and Outstanding Green Marketing.

A new category - the Local Government Award - has been established to recognize a government body nominated by a local home builders association for its work to allow and encourage green practices.

All award applications, supporting documentation and photographs must be submitted via e-mail or on a compact disk. Entry forms an requirements can be downloaded at No paper applications will be accepted.

To be eligible, projects must have been started after June 2007 and substantially completed by December 2008. Entries must be postmarked by Jan. 31, 2009.

Award winners will be recognized at a gala dinner in Dallas on May 8, 2009 during the 11th annual NAHB National Green Building Conference.


EBN Demystifies Carbon Footprints - Publishes Step-by-Step Guide for Designers and Builders 

Reducing your carbon footprint, or emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, has become popular, but measuring your footprint can be tough. For anyone seeking to measure the footprint of a building, Environmental Building News demystifies this effort with its feature article "Counting Carbon: Understanding Carbon Footprints of Buildings."

The article, by editor Nadav Malin, includes a step-by-step guide for simple carbon footprint analysis and in-depth explanations of the factors that are sometimes included in a more comprehensive approach.

"Designers and builders were asking us more and more questions about how carbon footprints are calculated and what is included," said Malin. "We addressed those questions, and more, in this article." A basic approach to estimating the carbon footprint looks only at the electricity and other fuels used in the building, Malin explains, but more sophisticated systems are starting to include carbon emissions from the materials used to make the building, from supplying water and even from transporting people to and from the facility.

"Counting Carbon" also explains why the approaches used to monitor carbon emissions for carbon offsets or trading on the Chicago Climate Exchange are different from those used in green building circles to minimize greenhouse gases. In addition, it describes how the interconnected U.S. electricity grid makes it tricky to estimate the carbon associated with electricity usage in any one place.

"Counting Carbon" is available free online in the News section of In addition to explaining the basic concepts involved, it cites some of the most useful tools and calculators available from third parties that support carbon footprint analysis. Additional tools designed to size up lifestyles rather than buildings, are reviewed in a related article by Environmental Building News research director Jennifer Atlee.

San Francisco's Green Building Ordinance to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Mayor Newsom recently signed San Francisco's groundbreaking green building ordinance which imposes strict new green building requirements on newly constructed residential and commercial buildings and renovations to existing buildings. The ordinance specifically requires newly constructed commercial buildings over 5,000 sq ft, residential buildings over 75 feet in height and renovations on buildings over 25,000 sq ft to be subject to an unprecedented level of LEED and green building certifications, which makes San Francisco the city with the most stringent green building requirements in the nation.

"If we want to get serious about addressing the root causes of global warming, then let's draw down the empty rhetoric and start taking concrete actions," said Mayor Newsom. "A lot of people don't realize that their homes and businesses create a significant portion of our carbon footprint, so today, by signing these strict green building standards into law, we're saying enough is enough. Let's end the stale promises, emphasize conservation and tackle climate change on all fronts."

The City's Climate Action Plan found that energy use in buildings and facilities is responsible for approximately 50 percent of San Francisco's greenhouse gas emissions. In 1990, San Francisco's energy use resulted in a total of approximately 4.5 million tons of CO2 emissions released into the atmosphere, making green building a critical component in the fight against climate change.

Some of the significant cumulative benefits this ordinance is expected to achieve through 2012 are: reducing CO2 emissions by 60,000 tons, saving 220,000 megawatt hours of power, saving 100 million gallons of drinking water, reducing waste and storm water by 90 million gallons of water, reducing construction and demolition waste by 700 million pounds, increasing the valuations of recycled materials by $200 million, reducing automobile trips by 540,000 and increasing green power generation by 37,000 megawatt hours.

This ordinance also continues San Francisco's efforts to reduce the City's greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012, a goal outlined in the City's 2004 Climate Action Plan. In addition, by reducing San Francisco's emissions, this ordinance also furthers the State's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide as mandated by the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

In 2007, Mayor Gavin Newsom established a Task Force on Green Buildings for the City comprised of ten members from San Francisco's ownership, developer, financial, architectural, engineering and construction community.

The mission of the Task Force was to advise and recommend to the City's policy makers: mandates, incentives, education and outreach in order to increase the number and improve the quality of green buildings in San Francisco, and to assess the impacts of the Task Force's recommendations.

The Task Force issued its Report and recommendations in June 2007. This legislation is based upon the Task Force's findings.

EEBA 2008 Excellence in Building Conference and Expo - Oct. 22-24

Building science education conference held this year in Phoenix, Arizona. Register and check for a list of CEC-qualifying sessions at:


Greenbuild 2008 - Revolutionary Green: Innovations for Global Sustainability - Nov. 19-21

US Green Building Council's Greenbuild conference and expo held this year in Boston, offers an opportunity to connect with other green building peers, industry experts and influential leaders as they share insights on the green building movement and its diverse specialties. Register at

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