COUNTY OF ALBEMARLE
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS WORK SESSION
Work Session: Green Building and Sustainability
Review the County’s Comprehensive Plan goals for sustainability, and examine our green building and sustainability efforts to date.
Tucker, Foley, Davis, Graham, Dougherty
LEGAL REVIEW: Yes
September 13, 2006
ACTION: INFORMATION: X
PURPOSE OF THE WORK SESSION:
Over the past several months, some Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission members have expressed an interest in reviewing green building and sustainability against existing County policies and what others are doing in this area. The attached report from Community Development staff examines sustainability and green design and what steps other localities and organizations have taken. This includes a review of recent efforts by the City of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia. With this review of green building and sustainability, the Board can determine if additional initiatives in this area are desired.
BACKGROUND AND OVERVIEW OF VARIOUS PROGRAMS:
Philosophically, the green building movement exists in order to address a wide range of environmental issues, from protecting forests and habitats to saving energy, reducing toxins, and keeping materials out of landfills. It seeks to protect the whole planet as well as a building’s occupants. The buildings created through pursuing these ideals are often healthier to live in, have lowered operational and maintenance costs, and a have better “feel” to them. As a result, they achieve a broad appeal far beyond traditional environmentalism.
Checklists are the main tool used to evaluate the effectiveness of a green project. Green rating systems, whether for buildings or land planning, offer an ala-carte list of options for fulfilling green design. While those are very helpful, underlying those lists is a fundamentally different way of thinking. It’s about optimizing a building’s relationship with its external environment. It’s about making buildings reflect the way we use them and it’s about looking at our impacts locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.
Defining green building and planning is challenging because it encompasses many environmental issues and can be applied on many levels. As green building address a wide range of issues where the modernized world pushes against protection of natural resources, there are no fixed set of priorities. Instead, solutions are based on carefully weighing all of the issues and recognizing compromises will be required. In addition to green building, there are smarter ways of designing neighborhoods and communities that decrease impacts. This is sometimes referred to as “green planning”.
Green building and green planning is about building with smaller impacts and lower lifecycle costs. As such, the green building and green planning movements push for a decreased dependence on energy and other resources by requiring less. By extension, green design responds to our dependence on the world’s conventional fuel supply and offers hope for resilience in changing market conditions. Green building techniques and various approaches to landscaping, water consumption, and water collection work to demand less from the public water supply. As our regional climate has trended toward drought several of the past eight years, green building and water conservation is an increasingly relevant tool to make better use of our water resources Though the green building and planning movements began as an effort to address a wide range of environmental impacts, it is also a method for local government to buffer itself from the fiscal impacts of a volatile energy market and shifts in climate.
Green Building Rating Programs
Green building rating programs have been developed and implemented locally, regionally, and nationally to provide some measure of effectiveness. Local rating programs, discussed in more detail by location below, are a locally-developed and
administered program that helps to guide local government and developers toward a more green design. Local rating systems may have particular objectives. For instance, solar power and water conservation may be more important in New Mexico while sustainable-harvested building materials and energy efficient heating systems may be more important in Maine. National rating systems provide a checklist or guidelines to encourage green design and construction with less weighting of locally important issues. In general, all green rating systems set a standard for what is green. In some localities, green building checklists are reviewed in conjunction with development proposals. See Attachment C, D and E for examples of the leading national green building rating system checklists.
Energy Star – national program
Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy to help consumers save money, make energy go farther, and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices. Americans, with the help of Energy Star, saved enough energy in 2005 alone to avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 23 million cars while saving $12 billion on their utility bills. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, signed in to law last summer, significantly increases incentives for a wide range of Energy Star programs. See Attachment D for the Energy Star incentives made available through the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
Energy Star qualified homes are at least 15% more energy efficient than homes built to the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code. With the help of independent Home Energy Raters, Energy Star builder partners choose the most appropriate energy-saving features for their homes. Additionally, raters conduct onsite testing and inspections to verify that the homes qualify as Energy Star. However, other options and incentives exist for utilizing Energy Star-rated products in new and existing commercial and residential buildings.
The Energy Star program offers tax credits for new construction and renovations for commercial, institutional, and residential uses. For example, a homeowner who retrofits an existing home with Energy Star windows and heat pump qualifies for a tax credit of 10% of the cost of the windows and 30% (up to $300 on a system costing at least $500) of the cost of the heat pump. Home builders are eligible for a $2,000 tax credit for a new Energy Star-rated home.
Energy Star Tax Deductions for Commercial Buildings
Through Energy Star, a tax deduction of up to $1.80 per square foot is available to owners or designers of new or existing commercial buildings that save at least 50% of the heating and cooling energy of a building that meets certain standards. Partial deductions of up to $.60 per square foot can be taken for measures affecting any one of three building systems: the building envelope, lighting, or heating and cooling systems.
LEED - national program
The LEED program (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) represents the efforts of a coalition including the US Green Building Council to establish a nationwide standard for constructing “green” buildings. Obtaining LEED certification requires compliance with a minimum number of criteria affecting many aspects of a project, from site selection to the recycled content of building materials. Projects earn points for criteria that they fulfill; those that earn more points are awarded a higher level of certification. Thus far, participation in the LEED program has been mostly voluntary. Some government entities have implemented requirements that publicly funded projects apply for LEED certification.
While empirical and projected data vary widely, the American Institute of Architects estimates that LEED certification will add from one to 15 percent to a project’s construction costs. An analysis of the cost of LEED certification prepared by Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants of Westford, Massachusetts for The American Chemistry Council of Arlington, Virginia has determined that obtaining LEED certification adds from four to eleven percent to a project’s construction costs. More than half of these costs are for “greening” investments in alternative systems, practices, and materials that earn points under the LEED system. The remaining costs fall outside of the range of construction costs; these are “soft costs” and they include incremental costs for design, documenting compliance, and verifying compliance through the commissioning process. The cost impact of LEED certification may decline over time as a percentage of total construction costs as architects, contractors, and consultants become more familiar with the process.
Given the County’s objective of fiscal responsibility, a focus on LEED principles short of certification may allow us to achieve green building goals without some of the soft costs that go along with certification. This has been done in other localities by using the LEED certification criteria and hiring a LEED-certified architect or designer. However this approach, though intended to recognize the fine balance local government works to achieve with revenue, would not yield much if it led to only marginally environmentally-friendly buildings.
EarthCraft – regional program
EarthCraft House is a green building program that serves as a model for healthy and comfortable homes that reduce utility bills and protect the environment. EarthCraft House is a partnership between the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association, Southface ( a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving understanding of sustainable building), and other government and industry partners focusing on residential construction and renovation. EarthCraft Homes are currently being built and certified in Virginia, including Charlottesville and Albemarle County.
The Southface Institute, the organization that administers the EarthCraft rating, estimates that energy upgrades on a 1,500 square foot home in the EarthCraft House program would cost only $700 more than a standard ($160,000) home. For example, improvements to the home’s building envelope (insulation, sheathing, windows) allows for a smaller air conditioner to be installed. EarthCraft design allows for the cost of green upgrades to be mitigated in some other way. Though the upfront cost is slightly higher, the long-term costs are lower because the utility costs are much lower.
An Earthcraft home must be certified as Energy Star. A builder must provide verification of Energy Star certification upon completion of construction. The house must be rated “5 star” by a certified rater, requiring a blower door and a duct pressurization test plus a certified software rating. This rating qualifies the developer for a $2,000 Energy Star tax credit as outlined above. The implementation of Energy Star or EarthCraft certification and associated residential tax credit programs for builders would provide enough credit to cover certification costs and a portion of the cost of “green” upgrades.
Green Building Programs – Local
Most local-government green building programs are implemented through a formal municipal process such as comprehensive plan change or ordinance adoption. Mandatory programs are typically codified through a standard local procedure. In many cases, programs are implemented through a committee created for this purpose. Many green building programs have no mandatory requirements. Most green building programs rely on one or more full-time staff members. If a program or rating standard is created and administered by a locality, trained building inspectors would be needed to provide support and evaluate a project’s attainment with the established rating system. Additionally, some locations have offered certification free of charge in support of increasing the number of homes and businesses built green. Utilizing and augmenting existing green building rating systems, such as LEED, Earthcraft, or Energy Star to evaluate building performance is normally conducted by a privately-operating trained inspector. Outreach and education regarding monetary incentives, decreased energy costs, and general benefits of green building are a critical part of local government green building programs.
Austin administers its own voluntary green building program by rating new and remodeled homes on a scale of 1 to 5 stars in the following areas: energy efficiency, testing, water efficiency, materials efficiency, health and safety, community. A new or remodeled home in the Austin Energy service area may be rated if the builder, architect, or designer is a member of the green building program. The Austin green building program helps developers and homeowners by providing information regarding design and specification choices.
Boulder’s Green Points Ordinance created the first mandatory residential green building program in the United States. Building permit applicants are required to earn Green Points according to a schedule based on house size. For example, use of certified sustainable-harvested lumber for framing earns 5 points.
Portland’s residential program promotes voluntary green building practices in the general residential market and sets mandatory requirements for city-funded affordable housing. The residential program relies heavily of training, outreach, development of materials, and grants. The program grew from an intensive public process which led to the city council adopting mandatory LEED requirements for city-funded buildings.
On July 17, 2006, the City of Charlottesville endorsed the U.S. Mayors Global Climate Agreement which supports policies adopted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors in response to global warming and climate change. Charlottesville joins at least 202 other cities in endorsing the climate agreement. The agreement acknowledges the findings of Inter-Governmental
Panel on Climate Change, the international community’s most respected assemblage of scientists, who have found that climate disruption is a reality and that human activities are largely responsible for increased concentration of global warming pollution. Global Warming gasses, based on data provided by the U.S. EPA and Department of Energy, come from the following sources: automobile: 34%; electricity generation: 28%; natural gas for heating and cooking: 18%; shipment and processing of goods and waste: 20%. The agreement challenges municipalities to inventory and then work to reduce global warming emissions, adopt and enforce land use policies that reduce sprawl, purchase only Energy Star-rated equipment, convert diesel vehicles to bio-diesel, and increase the use of clean energy, to name a few. The city of Charlottesville will be developing an action plan in conjunction with this recent endorsement. To date, the following Virginia cities have signed the climate agreement: Richmond, Williamsburg, Virginia Beach, and Alexandria. See Attachment D for the U.S. Mayors Global Climate Agreement.
Charlottesville’s transit center, currently under construction on the east end of the Downtown Mall, is designed to fulfill the requirements of a LEED certified building. Included in the transit center design are a geothermal heating and cooling system, recycled and local building materials, water efficient landscaping, extensive use of natural lighting, and public education displays. This transit center represents a government project that responds to the U.S. Mayors Global Climate Agreement.
After a charette last spring to explore how the City of Charlottesville may attain a higher level of energy efficiency and ecological balance, the city formed a green building committee. During a scheduled review and update of the city’s comprehensive plan this fall, the City of Charlottesville is expected to include guidelines and objectives prepared by the green building committee in May 2006 to reach the following goals:
1. Promote the achievement of a 30 percent reduction from current energy use by businesses and residences through a citywide education, assistance and incentive program.
2. Encourage green building and resource and energy conservation practices in new and existing buildings through financial incentives.
3. Ensure a consistent citywide policy that promotes green building by ensuing that other city regulations, practices and guidelines actively allow for and encourage green building practices.
4. Prevent excessive resource use through capturing the ‘embodied energy’ of existing buildings via adaptive re-use of existing structures to minimize use of ‘virgin’ resources.
Attachment H includes a complete summary of the revisions proposed for the City of Charlottesville’s Comprehensive Plan.
Arlington County, VA
Arlington County makes use of the LEED green building rating system as a way to measure the energy and environmental performance of buildings in their county. Arlington is committed to building its own public facilities using LEED as a guide and the silver LEED certification as the goal. Virginia’s first Silver LEED certification was awarded to an Arlington school in September 2003. Arlington County encourages private developers to evaluate the environmental impacts of all site plan projects. In Arlington County, site plan projects are approved by special exemption of their zoning ordinance. Conditions of approval for those development applications typically include:
Green Building Fund
In 2003, Arlington County established a green building fund and a policy for site plan developers (site plans approved by special exception) who do not commit to achieving a LEED rating to contribute to the fund. The contribution is calculated at a rate of $0.03 per square foot. The green building fund is used to provide education and outreach to developers and the community on green building issues. If a project achieves 26 or more points and the developer receives LEED certification from the USGBC, the Fund contribution is refunded upon receipt of the final LEED certification.
Green Building Incentive Program
Originally adopted in October 1999, the incentive program was revised and enhanced in December 2003. The program allows a private developer to apply for additional density if the project achieves a LEED award from the USGBC. The program applies to all types of building projects (office, high rise residential, etc.) achieving any one of the four LEED awards. The density bonus ranges from a minimum of .15 FAR for a LEED Certified project to a maximum of .35 FAR for a platinum project.
Alexandria made use of the same funds that assisted Albemarle County with our green roof project. Their project includes a 9,000 square foot green roof, which serves as an outreach and demonstration project. The city of Alexandria has signed the U.S. Mayor’s Global Climate Agreement. To date, no green building programs exists in Alexandria.
University of Virginia
The University of Virginia has worked to further identify goals and objectives through the creation of sustainability guidelines. The guidelines are intended to educate students, staff, and A/E consultants. The university developed and is utilizing a sustainability assessment tool to identify and analyze current university activities. Sustainability concepts have been applied to various projects and sustainability goals have been incorporated into the grounds plan for the university. In terms of green planning, the university has worked to increase walkability and provide excellent management of stormwater runoff in new construction.
Charlottesville Community Design Center
The design center is one of over 40 community design centers across the country that provides design assistance and works to identify and solve social, economic, and political problems as they relate to the built environment. This process promotes change to the built environment from the neighborhood to regional scale, and aims to meet community needs through participatory decision-making at all levels.
Last spring, the Community Design Center assisted the City of Charlottesville with a public charette to determine the interest of and collect ideas regarding green building from the people of Charlottesville.
This fall, the design center will focus on the achievements being made in green building and sustainability in our area. Through this effort, the recognition, visibility, and understanding of green building will be enhanced. In discussing green building ideas with design center staff, it has been suggested that an education and outreach partnership between the City of Charlottesville, University of Virginia, and Albemarle County would provide information and resources to a wide range of residents and could work to reduce the area’s energy consumption through simple short-term steps and defining long-term goals for creating a more sustainable region in general.
Green Building Education and Outreach
Fundamentally, all green building programs rely on outreach, education, technical assistance, and the individual desire of building users to strike a balance between development and the natural environment. Significant opportunities exist to provide information and guidance on how residents can build green or go green with existing structures. This can be as simple as winterizing a home to helping a homeowner in locating the Energy Star tax credit information.
Similar to the pamphlets the County distributes regarding our urban areas, a pamphlet illustrating tax credits and resources available, techniques for utilizing resources more efficiently, among others can work to raise awareness, and help residents
to better define their vision of a green and clean community. However, a more comprehensive outreach partnership with multiple organizations would work to address green building and local stakeholders as a whole. This partnership would likely require funding, but could be managed and implemented through an organization such as the Charlottesville Community Design Center.
Green Planning Rating Programs
LEED- ND (for Neighborhood Development)
The LEED for Neighborhood Developments (LEED-ND) rating system, currently under development, integrates the principles of smart growth, urbanism, and green building into the national standard for neighborhood design. LEED-ND is being developed by U. S. Green Building Council in partnership with the Congress for New Urbanism and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Using the framework of the LEED Green Building Rating System, LEED-ND certification will recognize development projects that successfully protect and enhance the overall health, natural environment, and quality of life of our communities. Like other LEED rating systems, LEED-ND will deliver more efficient energy and water use – especially important in urban areas where infrastructure is often overtaxed. It will also focus on smart growth and new urbanist best practices, including designing neighborhoods that reduce vehicle miles traveled and building communities where jobs and services are accessible by foot or public transit.
The LEED – ND program is finalizing the rating criteria and will be seeking entities interested in their pilot program sometime this fall. Though the rating system is not finalized, the proposed criteria are established and could be administered or reviewed versus development proposals regardless of the LEED-ND timeline.
LID – Low Impact Development
Low impact development is a more environmentally sensitive approach to development than conventional practices. Low Impact Development is a comprehensive land planning and engineering design approach with a goal of maintaining and enhancing the pre-development hydrologic regime of urban and developing watersheds. LID primarily focuses on site planning and can be approached in different ways. This design approach incorporates strategic planning with micro-management techniques to achieve superior environmental protection, while allowing for development. Techniques used to achieve LID include pervious pavers, rain gardens and biofilters, sand filters and filter vaults, compensatory plantings, green roofs, and use of cisterns and rain barrels.
COUNTY POLICY, PAST AND CURRENT EFFORTS:
County Comprehensive Plan
In 1996, the Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan was amended to include a strategy to support the accords of the Thomas Jefferson Sustainability Council. Many of these accords are reflected in the County’s strategic plan today and others have room for further development.
Some of the accords include striving for a size and distribution of human population that will preserve the vital resources of the region for future generations; ensuring that water quality and quantity in the region are sufficient to support the human population and ecosystems; promoting clustering in residential areas and the integration of business, industry, recreation, residential and open space; retaining farmland and forest land for the future; promoting the sale of locally produced farm and forest products in local, national and international markets; developing attractive and economical transportation alternatives to single occupancy vehicle use; providing educational opportunities open to every member of the community to encourage greater understanding of sustainability issues as they affect individuals and the region, using formal and informal education and local media coverage. See Attachment A for the complete set of the Comprehensive Plan’s sustainability goals.
Local Government and School Efforts
To date, the County has undertaken several efforts toward green building and sustainable design. The most visible accomplishments are the construction of the Monticello High School and associated storm water management facilities, the construction of the green roof on the County Office Building, tax credits for energy efficiency measures, as permitted by law, and the adoption of the Neighborhood Model, which guides a more sustainable form of development. In addition, in January of 2005, the Board of Supervisors and School Board officially adopted an Environmental Management Policy that
clearly states a commitment to compliance, pollution prevention, and continual overall environmental improvement. Both local government and the school system have hired environmental compliance managers to begin implementation of Environmental Management Systems (EMS) with the responsibility for implementing the adopted policy throughout our operations. General Services has made “green” qualifications a consideration when hiring A/E firms to design new buildings or major renovations. For example, the architect for the Crozet library is LEED certified and General Services intends to incorporate cost effective green building measures into the design. With existing operations, General Services is also replacing light fixtures with high efficiency bulbs, has purchased and is evaluating the performance of hybrid vehicles, is improving building and grounds maintenance procedures, and is pursuing Low Impact Development (LID) and Best Management Practices in storm water management.
The schools division has a broad approach to green building and sustainability. This includes the use of water efficient toilets and shower heads and use of biofilters to improve the quality of the water that leaves school sites. New carpet installation will use closed cell foam in carpets, and “green” cleaning and floor finish supplies are used to improve indoor air quality. All interior paint in new construction and remodels is required to be low in volatile organic compounds. All new classrooms will have a significant amount of lighting furnished by the sun through low-E energy efficient windows and roof monitors. New construction and renovation will include the installation of high-efficiency heating and cooling systems. To limit energy usage, cycle equipment, and control hall and exterior lights, all existing controls are being upgraded with direct digital controls. Roof replacement projects and new construction requires an R-30 insulation rating.
Schools are managing energy by using the strategies listed above. Virtually every school now has summer school and building rental usage throughout the year, which was not the case five years ago. Despite this increase in usage, the school division has been able to control energy consumption. For example, the schools consumed less natural gas and fuel oil, per SF in 2005 than in 2000, and experienced a modest increase of 1 KWH of electricity, per square foot, during the same time frame. This was accomplished by using the strategies noted above and with the use of energy audits, which involved nighttime building inspections and encouraged the building occupants to conserve energy. With everyone’s assistance, the school’s 2005/06 over-all energy consumption was less than in 2004/05, even though several changes were made to buildings, including constructing a new, large gym at Hollymead, an addition at Henley and an auxiliary gym at Monticello High School.
The School EMS incorporates compliance and pollution prevention-initiatives into its goals, objectives, and targets. This includes biodiesel testing in school buses, stormwater pollution prevention training, rechargeable battery recycling, mercury-containing lamp recycling, hazardous chemical clean-out, electronic waste recycling, chemical hygiene plan for instructional areas, hazardous waste management, and refrigerant management program. See Attachment B for a complete summary of our efforts. The school division has developed and implemented a school-wide Environmental Management System (EMS) that is recognized by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Environmental Excellence Program.
Beyond the Sustainability section of the County’s Comprehensive Plan, the County has taken initiative in demonstrating and integrating green building and sustainability into many of its programs. Beyond those current efforts, questions have typically fallen into three categories: what obstacles can the County remove, what can the County require, and what can the County do to encourage green building.
What obstacles can the County remove?
It does not appear there are any significant obstacles in County process to green building. Numerous structures are being built in the County to green building standards and the County permit process has not been found to create any obstacles. Additionally, the County has already adopted tax incentives as allowed. Thus, it appears there are no additional obstacles that the County controls.
What can the County require?
By the building code, the County cannot require buildings to be built to a different standard than the code. It does not appear local governments have the authority to require structures be constructed to a different standard than the building code. It is possible that the County could seek commitments to green building as part of legislative reviews, which will be discussed under ways to encourage green building.
What can the County do to encourage green building?
There are several possible measures the County could initiate. The following are some examples.
Incorporating green principles in building and site design often increases the upfront costs when compared to conventional construction, with reduced lifecycle costs. These additional upfront costs are associated with design and green upgrades. Given that the long-term operational costs are reduced, green buildings are designed to pay for themselves over time. The time it takes for a green building to recover upfront costs varies depending upon the design, efficiency a building achieves, and interest rates used for determining payback.
The state of California has conducted extensive research on the cost of green building. Though some variables, such as the cost of electricity and raw materials by region may vary somewhat, they have found that integrating green building practices into the construction of buildings is a solid financial investment. A comprehensive analysis contained in a report titled, “The Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Buildings: A Report to California's Sustainable Building Task Force” finds that a minimal upfront investment of about two percent of construction costs typically yields life cycle savings of over ten times the initial investment. For example, an initial upfront investment of up to $100,000 to incorporate green building features into a $5 million project would result in a savings of at least $1 million over the life of the building, assumed conservatively to be 20 years.
Green buildings provide a way to help address a range of challenges with budgetary impacts such as:
- The high cost of utilities
- Water shortage and waste disposal issues
- Continued state and federal pressure to cut criteria pollutants
- Growing concern over the cost of global warming
- The rising incidence of allergies and asthma, especially in children
- The health and productivity of employees
- The effect of the physical school environment on children’s abilities to learn
- Increasing expenses of maintaining and operating inefficient County facilities
Local Government green building and green planning programs have costs. These costs are relative to the breadth and nature of the program. Programs focusing on education and outreach have the lowest costs while locally-administered programs require the most staff support, generating the highest costs.
Finally, if the Board desired to expand efforts at promoting green buildings, there could be additional operational costs to support that effort. Until that effort is defined, it is not possible to estimate those costs.
Staff has presented this information to help the Board understand current efforts at green building and sustainability, as well as what others are currently doing. Should the Board be interested in expanding beyond the current effort, staff would develop a recommendation based on the Board’s guidance and bring this to the Board for consideration.
Attachment A – Comprehensive Plan sustainability goals
Attachment B – Summary of County’s efforts in green building and sustainability
Attachment C – LEED checklist
Attachment D – EarthCraft checklist
Attachment E – EnergyStar checklist
Attachment F – Energy Policy Act of 2005 Energy Star tax initiatives
Attachment G – U.S. Mayors Climate Agreement
Attachment H – City of Charlottesville’s proposed Comprehensive Plan changes regarding green building
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