DOE Issues Final Rule on Federal Green Building Standards

The Federal government has long been a leader in constructing green buildings, and LEED has been the Federal standard of choice. The Department of Energy issued a final rule updating its recommended certification standards and levels for all Federal buildings on October 14, 2014. 

The Final Rule does not tell Agencies which rating system to use.  Rather, if the Agency chooses to use a rating system, such system must meet the following characteristics:

  1. Allow assessors and auditors to independently verify the criteria and measurement metrics of the system;
  2. Be developed by a certification organization that (i) provides an opportunity for public comment on the system, (ii) provides an opportunity for development and revision of the system through a consensus-based process;
  3. Be nationally recognized within the building industry;
  4. Be subject to periodic evaluation and assessment of the environmental and energy benefits that result under the rating system; and 
  5. Include a verification system for post occupancy assessment of the rated buildings to demonstrate continued energy and water savings at least every four years after initial occupancy. 

Sounds a lot like LEED to me, so unless something else comes into the marketplace, Federal buildings are likely to use the LEED standard.

The DOE's rule is based, at least in part, on a General Services Administration (GSA) report on green building rating systems issued on October 25, 2013, and available here.  The GSA recommended LEED-2009 Silver or 2 Green Globes v 2010.  It also contained a variety of other recommendations, including keeping current with the rating systems as they evolve. 

The GSA's recommendation is an interesting one for two reasons:

(1) the GSA requires its buildings to be LEED Gold, and

(2) the recommendation was not supplemented to recommend LEED v4, even though the GSA did evaluate LEED v4. 

Since the Final Rule does not have a recommended rating system, and most agencies are unlikely to parse whether a particular rating system other than LEED complies with these characteristics, the GSA's recommendations are likely to become the Federal default.  


Can Utility Energy Efficiency Programs Make "MPGs" for Homes Mainstream?

 I was at a presentation by the Department of Energy on Wednesday (hosted by the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships) where they reviewed the status of their Home Energy Score program.  Like the fuel economy stickers on cars, these systems aim to create easy to understand energy ratings for buildings. 

The idea is grounded in basic human behavior--if people know how much energy a building uses and how much money they can save, they will purchase more energy efficient homes and/or invest in energy efficient retrofits.  Several cities have begun to harness the power of energy transparency for commercial buildings through benchmarking laws.  The Institute for Market Transformation has a map of jurisdictions with these laws here. 

However, while long called for, this type of program has not really gotten off the ground for small commercial or residential buildings.  The resistance has been strongest from the National Association of Realtors, who believe that such information would prejudice buyers against certain houses. The National Association of Realtors' position on energy efficiency and disclosure is available here.

There are really only two ways to overcome this resistance--make the disclosures mandatory as part of the owner's disclosures or to make them so common that purchasers demand them. 

Interestingly, some states, like Connecticut and Vermont, are considering incorporating these ratings into their utility energy efficiency programs.  Perhaps this is a way to get a sufficient number of houses benchmarked that it becomes a commonplace part of residential transactions.  

It would be even more interesting if states made residential benchmarking part of their programs under the new Clean Power Plan (the existing power plant carbon emissions rule).  That would help to reach the "tipping point" for residential energy use disclosure. 

2009 Energy Code Adoptions Required by ARRA--Where are They Now?

A long time ago in a first term far away, there was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), a.k.a the Stimulus. 

As explained by the DOE, The ARRA section on State Energy Program funding included a statutory provision (Section 410) linking SEP funding to building energy code adoption and enforcement. As a condition of accepting the ARRA funding, the states provided assurances through governor’s letters indicating their state would comply with the terms of Section 410.

All 50 states took ARRA SEP money, and all 50 governors provided commitment letters commiting to do three things relating to building energy codes:

Adopt a building energy code for residential buildings that meets or exceeds the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC),

Adopt a building energy code for commercial buildings and high rise residential that meets or exceeds the ANSI/ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1-2007, and;

 Develop and implement a plan, including active training and enforcement provisions, to achieve 90% compliance with the target codes by 2017, including measuring current compliance each year. 

In the four years since ARRA, eighteen states still have no energy code at all or have residential codes that do meet the ARRA requirements, and fifteen states still have no energy code at all or have commercial codes that do not meet the ARRA requirements. A map of the status of every state's energy codes is available here.


I have not been able to find state annual compliance reports or a report by the DOE Office of the Inspector General on the building code commitment aspect of the ARRA funding.   So, there is little, if any, data on when or whether states will comply with their ARRA commitments. [NOTE: I would welcome being proven wrong in this area.  If you have data, please send me a link and put it in the comment section].


Given the vast research that building energy codes are an inexpensive way to acheive energy efficiency, it was a really good idea to tie the ARRA finding to energy code adoption.  Unfortunately, lack of enforcement of ARRA commitments appears to be a missed opportunity to move the country forward in this area.

DOE Releases Green Lease Website, and More Musings on the Split Incentive "Problem"

The Department of Energy and several interesting partners (both BOMA and NRDC, for example) have launched a website consolidating green lease resources.  It is available here.  A number of public agency versions of leases, as well as some guidance documents are included.

Much is made of green leases, and the "split incentive problem" that is seen as a barrier to green building, and which green leases are designed to address.  The frequently cited example of the split incentive problem is where the tenant pays for utilities, as in a triple-net lease.  The landlord does not have an incentive to invest in energy efficient or green capital improvements because they will not see the benefits of the energy savings. Another example is which party will be responsible for maintaining green featuress of tenant space.

My feeling on this topic has always been that it is illusory. 

All lease negotiations, at some level, address the conflicting interests of landlords and tenants.  If energy and/or sustainability was an important enough issue, the parties will negotiate a solution. 

In other words, put lawyers in a room with enough diet coke, and there will be a drafting solution to the split-incentive problem. Indeed, the varied resources on the DOE site are a testament to the fact that enough diet coke exists to solve the green lease issue in several different ways.

So, I think the "split incentive" problem is really one of priority.  Energy costs represent about $1 per square foot, in a $150+ per square foot lease.  Thus, they will not rise to the top of the make-or-break lease terms. 

This is not to discount the value of the resource that DOE has put together, but rather to put it into context.  The green lease resources reduce the transaction costs associated with including green/energy efficiency terms in a standard lease.  If the poor lawyers don't have to draft the provisions from scratch, and the parties do not have to negotiate from a blank slate,  they are more likely to be included. 

Energy Efficiency Policy Report Published

As I mentioned in a previous post, I led a study this summer analyzing the legal policy and process factors impacting commercial building energy efficiency in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  The study was commissioned by the Department of Energy-led Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster for Energy Efficient Buildings (GPIC). The results of the study and a presentation I gave on the findings are now available through the GPIC site

The purpose of the study was to identify the most significant policy and legal-related process factors effecting energy efficiency (“EE”) in commercial buildings in the Greater Philadelphia area. The research focused on policy areas such as the structure of government, specific laws and regulations, government funded or mandated incentives and other financing mechanisms. Processes included legal-related factors impacting EE transactions, such as contracts, leases, public bidding requirements, and accounting standards.

The study revealed that between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the state and local governments have implemented almost all of the policy levers that advocates have called for to increase EE. For example, both Pennsylvania and New Jersey have up-to-date building and energy codes. The states have invested hundreds of millions of dollars collected from utility ratepayers in EE incentive programs. New Jersey has experimented with alternative rate structures for utilities. Therefore, the primary recommendation of this study is to conduct further legal and market research to compare the effectiveness of the New Jersey and Pennsylvania regulatory initiatives designed to address the efficiency gap, including the incentive and ratemaking efforts.

Although many policies are in place to promote EE, direct and indirect barriers still exist. For example, until August 2011, New Jersey did not allow sub-metering of multi-family residential buildings, creating a direct barrier to energy management. The indirect barriers are numerous, and include even the structure of government itself. For example, the multitude of governing bodies and the often inconsistent policy goals of each result in a fragmented and sometimes contradictory set of policies regarding EE.

Finally, the study found that market processes necessary for smooth transactions and full valuation of EE construction are immature, increasing transaction costs and making EE investments less valuable. For example, appraisers of EE buildings frequently ignore or undervalue EE upgrades. As a result, owners may not recoup their investment at the sale of the property, or their cost to borrow against their assets may be compromised.


 I welcome feedback from the GBLB community on the findings. 

Energy Efficiency Policy After ARRA--Access to Capital is Not Enough

My loyal readers may have been surprised (or relieved) by my hiatus from publishing.  I was not idle, however.  I led a study on Energy Efficiency Policy in New Jersey and Pennsylvania on behalf of the Department of Energy-funded Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster for Energy Efficient Buildings.  I completed the work last week, and it will be released soon. 

I have also been advising New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on developing the 2011 Energy Master Plan for New Jersey.  The draft plan is available here.  The findings of the eight-person work group on clean energy will be made public shortly, and public hearing is being held on October 21 from 9:30-12:30 at the Rutgers Eco-Complex.  Details are available here

My public sector work has given me some new insights into green building and energy efficiency policy, which will be developed in further posts over the next few months. 

Among the most interesting findings is the difficulty in crafting public policy initiatives to break through the “efficiency gap”—the gap between a customer’s actual investments in energy efficiency and those that appear to be in the consumer’s best interest.

Most policy efforts are aimed at eliminating the "first cost" barrier to energy efficiency.  In other words, providing grants or loans to minimize the upfront investment required for energy efficient systems.  

Making these programs work to achieve scale and realize significant energy savings has proven devilishly difficult.    With the influx of ARRA funds, state and local jurisdictions have invested $650 million in loan programs for energy efficiency projects, with loans generally provided to customers at low- or zero- interest rates. 

The author of a May 2010 nationwide study of state, utility and municipal loan programs by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory concluded:

Despite the advantages of state, utility and municipal loan programs, participation to date has been modest, and they appear to be incapable of driving a large scale transition to a clean energy future by themselves.

A study just released in September, 2011 by the ACEEE which reviewed 24 financing programs nationwide concluded that participation rates were generally low across programs, and do not generally track energy savings.  The report concluded:

While several programs have many years of experience and have issued thousands of loans, this market has yet to come to scale. 

So, it is clear that transforming the energy efficiency environment will require more than providing low cost capital from government sources for at least two reasons.  First, because government capital and capital deployment mechanisms are not robust enough to create scale, and second, because the barriers to energy efficiency are not merely financial.  Psychological barriers, cultural barriers, resource barriers and technical barriers also play important roles.  [This report nicely summarizes the various barriers to energy efficiency investment by sector.]

From my research, policymakers must focus on better stimulating private capital deployment and integrating financing with tools to address other barriers to energy efficiency. Understanding consumer motivation, providing resources to address the less concrete barriers to energy efficiency, and partnering with private capital sources to bring financing to scale  should be the goals of energy efficiency policies going forward.

[High]rising Star: DOE Preparing to Launch an Energy Star-like System for Commercial Buildings

For several years, property owners have become increasingly aware of the potential for energy efficient buildings to decrease operating costs, improve occupancy, and demand higher rental prices.

Theoretically, all of the benefits of energy efficient buildings should yield a higher property values for green buildings and lower values for non-energy efficient buildings.  However, real estate appraisers often fail to properly value the energy efficiency features, meaning that the building will be appraised for the same value as another building without the investment in energy efficient systems, features, etc.   

 If energy efficient properties are appraised below their actual value, it can lead to a reduced resale value, lower rents, and poorer financing options than the owner would realize if the appraisal took into account the value of the property’s green attributes.

On August 8, 2011, the Department of Energy issued a "Request for Information" seeking input from stakeholders on a "Commercial Building Asset Rating Program"--let's call it "Highrise Star."  The goal of Highrise Star is to create an Energy Star-like system for commercial buildings.  The program would establish common inputs for calculating energy efficiency, select a modeling tool to evaluate the inputs for individual buildings and output a rating with which to compare the energy efficiency of different buildings.

The goal of the new program is primarily to address the issue of valuing energy efficiency (it does not address other green features like water usage, etc.) discussed above by providing a common metric for comparing the energy efficiency of commercial properties, and providing a reliable and common system for evaluating commercial building energy efficiency. 

The devil is in the details, of course.  The RFI proposes several different models for valuing energy, evaluating energy efficiency, and conveying the information.  If the DOE program is created, the commerical real estate community could soon be using a 100 point scale, like LEED, or a star system like the Energy Guide labels on appliances.  The robustness of the inputs and the energy model is critical to accurately evaluating building energy use, the simplicity of the input system will determine whether commercial building owners will use it to rate their facilities, and the representation of the "score" will determine whether users will actually understand and act on the information.

Many will ask "Where does this leave LEED?"  The proposed commercial building program is much less ambitious than LEED, in that it focuses exclusively on energy use. However, if every building has a "[High]rise Star," commercial building owners may be less likely to seek LEED to verify the green-ness of the facility.  Since Highrise Star will be free, the incentive to invest in LEED may be significantly reduced.  The ultimate test will be one of reliability--if Highrise Star is seen as robust, reliable and easy to use, LEED will have its work cut out for it to compete.  If it is viewed as too "easy" to achieve high marks for energy efficiency or if the interface is too cumbersome, then LEED will not be so directly effected.   

In any event, since government programs are often VERY slow to be developed, it may be a while before [High]rise Star comes on line.

The Renewable Energy Tax Code Wilderness--Production, Investment and Grants OH MY!

I will make an admission.  I took tax in law school, and, it was the academic equivalent of having my left arm sawed off without anaesthesia.  Why? Mostly because things which should have been clear seemed hopelessly obscure.  Now I deal with advising clients on incentives available for sustainable projects, and the tax code and I have had to battle to a stalemate.  At least, I battle, and the tax code just sits there impentarably.

One of the features which is particularly difficicult is the relationship between 26 USC 45, which deals with tax credits for producing renewable energy (the "production tax credit" or PTC), 26 USC 48 which deals with tax credits for investing in renewable energy equipement (the "investment tax credit" or ITC) and the Renewable Energy Grant created by the ARRA.  All three of these relate to businesses which have installed renewable energy technologies, like solar, wind and geothermal.  It should be clear and easy to understand which ones apply to your business and what the incentive will be.  As with all things related to the tax code, however, it is not.

I am going to attempt to clear up some of the obscurity, but, as with all information on this blog, it is for informational purposes only, not legal advice; and you should consult your legal and financial advisor to provide you with proper advice for your business.

Title Applies to Amount of Incentive
Production Tax Credit
  •  Wind
  • Biomass
  • Geothermal
  • Solar
  • Small Irrigation
  • Municipal solid waste
  • Hydropower
  • Marine and Hydrokinetic
 1.5 cents per kW of power generated at a qualified facility for the 10 years beginning on the date the facility was placed in service AND sold to an unrelated person during the taxable year
Investment Tax Credit
  •  Solar for heating, cooling, hot water, illumination or solar process heat
  • Fuel cell
  • Microturbine
  • Geothermal
  • Combined heat and power (cogeneration)
  • Small wind
  • Ground water thermal
 30% of the cost of the "energy property" for solar and small wind, 10% for geothermal and other renewable sources
Renewable Energy Grant  Applicable property under Section 45 or 48  10% or 30% of the basis of the property, depending on the type of property placed in service during 2009 or 2010 or after 2010 if construction began on the property during 2009 or 2010 and the property is placed in service by a certain date known as the credit termination date

The incentives are mutually exclusive--The PTC and the ITC cannot both be taken, and they can be swapped for the REG, but you cannot take the PTC/ITC and the REG.

In plain english, it appears that the PTC is designed for renewable energy sources where the power is designed to be sold to others as a Renewable Energy Credit, and the ITC is designed for renewable energy sources where the power is used on-site.  The Renewable Energy Grant allows companies which have invested in either type of renewable energy capacity to receive cash, as opposed to a tax credit, which is helpful particularly if the company has no tax liability or a tax loss. 

 There are some resources available to help you sort through this morass.  The DSIRE database has quick summaries of available state and federal incentives.  The Utah Clean Energy site has a nice summary of the renewable energy features of the ARRA.   The DOE site has a useful summary of renewable energy incentives for businesses as well.

How the Stimulus Bill Shortchanged The EPA, And What It Means For Green Building

I have written before about the conflict between local and federal regulation of green building.  But the issue of jurisdiction is not restricted to intergovernmental conflict.  At the federal level,  resources for green building are being largely handled by the Department of Energy, and not by the Environmental Protection Agency. 

The DOE runs the Energy Star program, for example.  In its page on "buildings" the DOE states:

The Department of Energy, through the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE) Building Technologies Program works closely with the building industry and manufacturers to conduct research and development on technologies and practices for energy efficiency. The Department also promotes energy and money-saving opportunities to builders and consumers and works with state and local regulatory groups to improve building codes and appliance standards.

As you might expect, the DOE information is all about energy efficiency.  By contrast, the EPA has an informative page about green buildings, including information on water efficiency, sustainable communities, indoor air quality, waste reduction, toxics reduction and other considerations.  In short, the EPA takes into consideration the multi-faceted ways in which buildings impact the environment. 

Why should you care? On the EPA page regarding funding for green building projects it states:

EPA does not currently provide funding to support green building projects.

In the stimulus bill, which, you recall had $60 billion for "green" programs, the EPA was allocated exactly $0 for green building, and a measley $7 billion over all.  Don't believe me? Look at the EPA's own assessment of the stimulus money.  By contrast, the DOE was allocated $32.7 billion, with $5 billion for weatherization alone. 

The government agency charged with protecting the environment was essentially shut out of the "green" stimulus bill, and as a result, I wonder whether the overall environmental impact of buildings will be promoted effectively through research, incentives and other mechanisms.

Resource--Department of Energy Code Map

The Department of Energy has a map which identifies the Building Code Energy Codes for each state, along with the ASHRAE energy code standard they are currently using.