Invariably, those in sustainable development acknowledge the greatest impact in reducing green house gasses (GHGs) will come from improvements to existing buildings. The new commercial building energy performance ordinance that we recently spent a great deal of time covering is an example of that focus.  That is not to say that intelligent new building codes are ineffective. It’s just that refurbishing the existing building stock will have a far greater impact. Just how drastic is the difference in impact, you ask? How about seven times greater for residential retrofits and two times greater for commercial?!

Just think of it from this starting point: “72% of California’s 13 million residential buildings and over 5 billion square feet of commercial structures were built before the implementation of California’s energy efficiency building code (Title 24) in the early 1980’s. This means that 3 out of 4 homes in California have never had to comply with any energy efficiency requirements whatsoever.” (Citation:

AB 758, sponsored by Assembly Member Nancy Skinner, was signed into law in October 2009 to addresses this underserved area.  Now, the program has created a need for hiring at the California Energy Commission to implement the provisions. Jobs, people. Jobs!  (Click here to see the job postings from the California Energy Commission).   I won’t get into it, but for the critics who will gripe about government jobs we can not afford, I argue, we can not afford to waste energy across our great state.  When companies waste money on energy, they don’t hire.  Further, jobs are created to fix the inefficient structures that are identified.

Now, let’s examine what the bill requires.  In summary (and using a great deal of the direct language from the bill) the bill mandates three main initiatives

First, the Energy Commission is required to establish a regulatory proceeding to develop a comprehensive program to achieve greater energy savings in the state’s existing residential and non-residential building stock.  A brief but thorough report on their progress is available here. The CEC created the Home Energy Rating System (HERS Phase II). Next is a complimentary program for commercial buildings. Further, the Energy Commission is required to report on the status of the program in the integrated energy policy report.

(If you’re reading on our home page, click “more” to read on and get links to a power point presentation from Assembly Member Skinner that has tons of great concise information.) (more…)

First ever mobile post, so excuse the brevity.
Mayor Lee will sign the proposed ordinance into law tomorrow.

WHERE: Adobe headquarters, 601 Townsend

WHEN: 10 A.M., Friday, February 18, 2011

I wish I could be there, but I’m out of town.
Congrats, San Francisco!

For our comprehensive analysis, please click here

The San Francisco Board Of Supervisors unanimously passed the Commercial Buildings Energy Performance Ordinance.  The ordinance now goes to Mayor Edwin Lee for signature.  Mayor Lee is expected to sign the ordinance, and its provisions will go into effect as law. 

This is a major step for San Francisco.  Under the ordinance, San Francisco has the opportunity to make drastic cuts to energy use by existing buildings.  It is believed that San Francisco is the largest city to require energy audits of commercial buildings.

For our full analysis of the ordinance, click here

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the Commercial Buildings Energy Performance Ordinance on the first reading.  The ordinance will be read one more time at next week’s meeting of the Board of Supervisors, and if it passes again without changes, it will be sent to the Mayor for signature.  All indications suggest this ordinance will pass.

For our full analysis and a copy of the proposed ordinance, click here

As we’ve been reporting, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors may vote on the Commercial Buildings Energy Performance Ordinance this week.  The first reading of the ordinance will be Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 2pm in the Board of Supervisors chamber at City Hall.   It is possible that the Board will vote at that time.  We will let you know how it goes.

For our full analysis and a copy of the proposed ordinance, click here

As mentioned on Friday, the Land Use and Development Committee for the City and County of San Francisco is holding a hearing on Monday, January 24, 2011 to discuss the proposed Existing Commercial Buildings Energy Performance Ordinance.  I encourage you to attend if possible.

The proposed ordinance would require certain commercial buildings to produce two reports, (1) an energy and performance audit every five years and (2) an Annual Energy Benchmark Summary (AEBS).   Save for any confidential information, the audit and the AEBS would be made available to the public.  The ordinance makes sense, but may place a cost on building owners that will inevitably be passed on to renters.  The upside is that renters usually pay for utilities, so energy savings may offset the cost of the audit…something to think about in a green lease, that’s for sure.

Here’s a short summary:

The proposed ordinance will require two reports.  The first report is the AEBS, and that will use the Energy Star Portfolio Manager Energy Performance Rating as a basis.  This report will likely not cost too much money as it is based on the Portfolio Manager software that is freely available, and the data is generated from the local utility (in the case of San Francisco, PG&E).

The second report is a building-wide audit (as defined by ASHRAE Procedures for Commercial Building Energy Audits) conducted by a third-party vendor.  As such, I am guessing the audit likely carries a higher price tag.  Full disclosure, I have never hired someone to do an energy audit for a commercial building, so I am only guessing that the fees are more than nominal.

After the initial three-year staggered start period (which will also be used for the AEBS), the required energy audit would be required once every five years.  As proposed, the audit requirement is as follows:  Level I audits (as defined by ASHRAE) are essentially “walk-through” audits.  These are required for buildings between 10,000 to 49,999 sq ft (smaller buildings).  Level II audits (as defined by ASHRAE) are comprehensive surveys and analyses, and they are required for all buildings 50,000 sq ft and above. (larger buildings).

If owners do not comply with the requirements they may face fines.  The fines are $100/day (for larger buildings) or $50/day (for smaller buildings) for every day of non-compliance up to 25 days per 12 month period.  In other words, the maximum fine per year is $2,500 for a large building and $1,250 for a small building.

In general I like the ordinance but there are some issues that should be addressed… (more…)

This post today is short and sweet, because I want to get the notice out.  San Francisco is contemplating legislation that will require commercial building energy audits.  A hearing in front of the Land Use And Economic Development Committee will be held on Monday, January 24 at 1pm in San Francisco City Hall Room 263. The Board of Supervisors will vote on this soon following a recommendation from the committee.  If you’re interested in attending, go for it!  We support this legislation, but a full and thorough debate is necessary to create effective legislation.

Click here for the committee agenda: 012411 LU Agenda – FINAL

Click here for the ordinance and supporting documents that are under consideration: 101105

We previously covered post-occupancy performance and the proposed legislation (click here for a few of the posts).  Updated analysis will follow this weekend when I have time to write.

A class action lawsuit against the USGBC has just been filed in Federal Court for the Southern District of New York (Gifford v. U.S. Green Building Council, docket number 10 CIV 7747).  Stephen Del Percio who does a great job publishing the Green Real Estate Law Journal and Green Buildings NYC broke this story (at least to me), and it’s going to have reverberations throughout the sustainable development community.

The complaint is brought on behalf of Henry Gifford, Gifford Fuel Saving, Inc., and others similarly situated.  In a nutshell, the plaintiffs allege the USGBC has engaged in deceptive trade practices, false advertising and anti-trust (among other things) by promoting the LEED system.  Plaintiffs further allege that because the LEED system does not live up to predicted and advertised energy savings, the USGBC defrauded municipalities and private entities.

The basis for the class action has been mentioned more than a few times in this blog and many others (including Mr. Del Percio’s).  Essentially, many green buildings are not performing as touted.  In some situations they are performing WORSE than buildings built to code.  The plaintiffs allege that because of these performance shortcomings, the USGBC commits anti-trust violations when it convinces municipalities to align their building codes to the USGBC’s LEED system.

While some LEED buildings are underperforming, the lawsuit is no slam-dunk for the Plaintiffs.  From a personal perspective, I find plaintiff’s complaint is a bit overly dramatic.  An effective complaint acknowledges and then refutes the defense’s potential arguments.  Here the plaintiffs’ complaint seems almost melodramatic in its representation of big bad USGBC.  In my opinion they lose some credibility there.

One of the biggest issues plaintiff will face is that occupants are often the primary reason green buildings underperform.  Many occupants don’t understand the new technology used in green buildings.  However, occupant “sabotage” is not the exclusive reason green buildings underperform.  Often it is also because the technology itself doesn’t work.  The USGBC is working on this issue, and Post-Occupancy Performance is a cornerstone of LEED 3.0.

No doubt there is a valid lawsuit here, and I anticipate this lawsuit will grow if more members of plaintiffs’ class sign on.   We’ll keep you updated as the lawsuit progresses.

Click here for a copy of the complaint.

As always, it’s great to have Sarah Grilli contribute.  Here is her latest post:

Last week San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom proposed new legislation with co-sponsor City Supervisor Bevan Dufty focused on reducing the energy use of existing commercial buildings over 5,000 square feet. This new law is expected to be passed next month by San Francisco supervisors. San Francisco is currently subject to a strict green building code which was described in detail on a prior blog post. If this new measure passes, it will assist in making San Francisco’s green building legislation one of the most comprehensive of any city nationwide.

In May, we mentioned that the Mayor was planning this legislation, and, as predicted by pundits, it does go far beyond the statewide energy reporting required by AB 1103.  The program proposed by Mayor Newsom implements many of the recommendations suggested by the Task Force on Existing Commercial Buildings. (For our discussion of AB 1103 and our series on the Report from the Mayor’s Task Force On Existing Commercial Buildings, click here).  The legislation is modeled on similar programs in California and Boulder, Colorado, and requires the use of free software from the US EPA.

The cornerstone of the legislation is that it requires building owners to conduct a comprehensive energy audit every five years and an updated audit every year. This emphasis on energy efficiency will provide an additional layer of measurement and verification that is often missed in building codes and third party rating system such as the USGBC’s LEED. However, the newest version, LEED 3.0, does require measurement and verification through a post occupancy audit process. See our prior blog post on this issue here.

The city’s efforts in this regard will provide an important catchall for non-LEED buildings, and even more importantly will focus on existing buildings, not new construction. In theory, once the building owners and managers receive an audit report they will embrace the resulting proposed energy-saving renovations.   Most, if not all, of the available energy-saving renovations are subsidized by Federal and State programs, thus assisting implementation.  Stay tuned to the California Green Building Blog for a comprehensive review of the ordinance if this legislation passes.

UPDATE: This legislation is on the way to passage.  Click here for coverage

In Part One of our analysis of the report from the Mayor’s Task Force on Existing Commercial Buildings, we discussed the task force’s four themed approach to improving the energy efficiency of existing commercial buildings: 1) “maximize transparency,” 2) partner with the private sector, 3) attract game-changing capital, and 4) lead by example.  We now turn to theme two, “partner with the private sector.”

As discussed in Part One of this post, the transparency mandates suggested by the task force, and/or mandated under AB 1103 will force private industry to report energy use.  These reporting requirements will generate market forces that push buildings to higher energy efficiency.  But, will developers, owners, and tenants really compete in a race to the top of efficiency based on AB 1103 alone? The answer is “probably not,” or maybe I should say, “probably not quickly enough.”

Sure, required energy reporting will occur, but the desired reduction in energy use will not manifest rapidly.   Without government mandate and assistance for developers, owners, and tenants, the measures suggested by the task force, including mandatory energy audits, will create resentment and real hardship for businesses.  Also, the local taxpayers might not be happy with the incentives and rebates suggested to assist in deferring the cost (though some of the underwriting will come from state and federal grants).

The task force suggests two low-cost “tools” to rapidly generate efficiency results and ease the private burden of implementing energy efficiency.  The first suggestion is a “no-brainer,” but the second might not be as simple.

The first tool is the “Green Tenant Toolkit” (“GTT”).  Rather than simply mandating energy efficiency, the GTT proposes a “toolkit” with suggestions for developers, owners, and tenants regarding “best practice recommendations, a model green lease, [and] a standardized checklist to identify green features of spaces for lease.”  Also, as a part of the “partner with the private sector” theme, the task force suggests a public/private (dare I say) task force to come up with the language and suggestions for the GTT.  The proposed GTT is a quick and easy resource, and one that will ease the burden of implementing energy efficiency measures.

The second tool suggested by the task force is “unilateral submetering.”  This strategy proposes allowing tenants or landlords to implement submetering at the requester’s expense.  This is risky, and not completely thought out. First, this option likely already exists for a majority of tenants and landlords, and second the suggestion ignores the issues that arise from such a policy.

For example, unlike other tenant-level capital improvements, submetering affects the operating costs of other tenants.  Generally, a building’s utility costs are averaged, and then allocated to tenants based on square feet.  If a large tenant has a significant amount of space that is below the average energy use in a building, and that space is removed from the building energy calculation, the average cost will rise for other tenants.  Conversely, a landlord, at the bequest of other tenants, may submeter a power-sucking data center.  This action will lower rent for a majority of other tenants, but send operating costs for the data center through the proverbial roof.  It’s not quite that simple, but the example above is closer to the reality than the task force lets on.

To achieve the equity the task force seeks, unilateral submetering will need further analysis, or testing before city-wide implementation.  Perhaps if a tenant submeters, a landlord could be forced for one year to keep the submetered tenant in as part of the calculation for the building’s energy use averages until other tenants can take action to either lower energy costs or also submeter?  Or perhaps the city will limit the amount a landlord can raise an energy charge thus encouraging energy efficiency?  Perhaps other tenants will just have to “get with the program,” submeter, and increase their efficiency to realize ROI.  There are no easy solutions to this question, but submetering is an effective tool to reducing energy use, and is required for any effective energy efficiency policy.

The task force’s next suggestions – including the suggestion of a government fund to cover expenses for implementation of energy efficient technologies – will be covered in part three of our analysis.  Stay tuned…


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