A new program in San Francisco, Solar@Work, offers discounts, and in some cases free installation, on solar arrays for commercial building owners and lease holders.  Almost any size business can qualify for the program that will lower energy costs for participants.  For businesses proactively addressing San Francisco’s required energy audits, this program requires a closer look. (For full analysis of San Francisco’s commercial building energy audit program, click here)

Solar@Work groups commercial building owners and/or lease holders together to reduce costs through economies of scale.  Participants generate the greatest savings on energy costs through the purchase of a solar array.  The cost of purchasing and installing a system can be prohibitive, so Solar@Work creates a discount on installation and financing through volume pricing.  A “traditional” solar lease is also available with no up front cost, but the savings on energy bills are markedly less significant.

The Collaborative Solar Procurement model created by the World Resources Institute allows the Solar@Work program to offer four financing options.  Owners can purchase systems at a discount, secure a solar lease, secure a capital loan, or finance through other options including power purchase agreements.

The goal is to collect enough businesses in the program to collectively generate 2 megawatts of power or more.  Applications are being accepted until October 31, 2011, and an informational conference call is scheduled for October 21, 2011.

The ideal applicants are owner/occupiers or long-term leasers whose available space on a roof or parking area is 5,000 square feet or more.

Solar City is the exclusive vendor for the program created by the World Resources Institute, the City and County of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment (SF Environment), in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and Optony.

Solar City was selected through a competitive process to provide the installation services for the program.  The company anticipates hiring 400 new workers in the second half of 2011 including 100 in the Bay Area, partly due to Solar@Work.

Congratulations to WRI, San Francisco, and the other contributors to this program.  Solar@Work promises to be another great example of how sustainable development will lead a growth in the economy through reducing energy costs and increasing employment.

As you will recall, the Property Assessed Clean Energy program allows residents to pay for solar installations through a tax assessment on their property.  Last year, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) essentially stopped the program with a letter advising mortgage lenders that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would not purchase mortgages on homes that also have PACE financing.  California and eight other parties sued the FHFA to rescind its letter and change its policy.

The PACE lawsuit (Case Nos. 10-cv-03084 CW, 10-cv-03270, CW, 10-cv-03317 CW, 10-cv-04482 CW) continues with a possible end some time in the summer of 2012.  A trial date is set for April 30, 2012.  (click here for the Case Management Order).  Some of my previous coverage of the lawsuit can be found by clicking here. In the beginning of this year, the court asked the Attorney General of the United States to submit a Statement Of Interest offering its position regarding the PACE lawsuit.

Although the executive branch previously endorsed the PACE program, and the creative financing mechanism that is the cornerstone, the Statement of Interest evades the issue at hand (the subrogation of primary mortgages).  Instead, the DOJ argues simply that the the FHFA has authority to bring and defend its own lawsuits and the DOJ does not see a need or mandate to interfere with FHFA’s handling of the matter.  The DOJ then states its only area of concern is that the plaintiffs lack standing to bring the suit.  While plaintiffs may lack standing (I doubt it), the DOJ could have also offered analysis of the legitimacy of the program’s structure.

The parties are now heading to the discovery stage of litigation, but frankly there is nothing to discover.  As far as I can tell, there are really no material facts in dispute.  Either the FHFA is going to allow for PACE programs to move forward, follow the Department of Energy guidelines (Full Guidelines Here), and acknowledge the minimal risks involved.  Or, the FHFA will undermine one of the best modern approaches to nurturing mainstream adoption of sustainable development.

Unless Congress passes a law supporting PACE financing, the lawsuit will move forward, and frankly the prospects don’t look good for plaintiffs.  That means PACE programs will essentially become a great idea undermined by the inflexibility of bureaucracy.

Just a quick note to let you know I will be in Los Angeles June 24 and 25, at the Dwell on Design conference.  My panel will discuss financial incentives and traps when undertaking sustainable construction.

Other panelists include Eve Troeh, Reporter, Sustainability Desk, Marketplace; Bill Baldwin, from HartmanBaldwin Design/Build; and Aaron Britt, Senior Editor, Dwell Media.

The event is always a big hit, and draws thousands.  The expo looks great and the line-up of speakers is stellar.  I hope you can join us!

The Dwell on Design homepage is here: http://dod.dwell.com/

The link to our session is here http://dod.dwell.com/stages/3

On June 8, 2011, Mr. Robert Bryce, author of the recently published Power Hungry, The Myth Of Clean Energy And The Real Fuels Of The Future, wrote an Op-Ed piece to the New York Times. In the piece, Mr. Bryce argues that the recently signed mandate requiring a 30% renewable portfolio standard places too high a burden on society.  Mr. Bryce attempts a clever approach addressing considerations some sustainability advocates fail to consider.

Of note, I will be reading Mr. Bryce’s book and commenting on it shortly.  While I do not agree with Mr. Bryce’s observations in his Op-Ed piece, he does raise essential considerations that any advocate for sustainability must address.

The two main issues that Mr. Bryce raises in his short Op-Ed are that renewable energy sources such as solar thermal and wind power require vast amounts of space to generate large-scale power.  The other issue is that the manufacture of renewable power infrastructure requires vast natural resources.  Mr. Bryce’s Op-Ed can be found here.  Below is a critique of Mr. Bryce’s opinions.

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First, a quick editor’s note.  I’ve been on a brief hiatus, but thanks to all of you for continuing to check in and research our past coverage.   I have a number of articles in the pipeline, so get ready!

Now, on to the recent news.  California’s AB 32 (AKA The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) is a fantastic initiative to measure and reduce our impact on the environment. The legislation mandates deep reductions in environmental impact across numerous industrial sectors requiring California to reach 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. When one realizes this is not a per capita benchmark, the feat appears daunting to say the least. The California Air Resources Board (ARB) is responsible for setting the Scoping Plan for AB 32 that lays out the roadmap for reducing green house gasses. That ARB Scoping Plan was finalized at the end of 2008, and can be found by clicking here.

On March 18, 2011, Judge Earnest Goldsmith ruled that the board failed to follow proper procedures under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when the board mandated the implementation of California’s proposed Green House Gas Cap and Trade program without a detailed consideration of alternative approaches. With this finding, Judge Goldsmith issued a Writ of Mandate that suspends the implementation of the cap and trade program until the board satisfies the CEQA requirements. (Click here for the decision). Specifically, Judge Goldsmith focused on the board’s failure to show it sufficiently considered alternatives to the cap and trade program (e.g. a carbon tax). The analysis of alternatives is a specific document, the Functional Equivalent Document (FED), contained within the Environmental Impact Report (EIR). A sufficiently detailed FED is required to provide disclosure to the public as to how the decision was reached, and to show the board did not reach its decision in an arbitrary and capricious manner. In this way, the board can conclusively demonstrate that the cap and trade program is the best alternative.

Frankly, this decision appears to be an exercise in legal semantics. Clearly there is a requirement that the board follow CEQA in its decision-making process, but to suggest that the board needs to spend time and money exploring the effects of implementing a carbon tax is unrealistic. Temporary measures aside, California has not voted for a new tax in years (if not decades). To suggest that a carbon tax is an alternative to cap and trade is like saying walking is an alternative to flying.

Goldsmith is right to a certain extent.  The FED is not very detailed, but his decision is really an exercise in futility. The result is that the ARB will comply with the decision while it appeals the ruling. Either way, Judge Goldsmith’s decision results in at least a year delay to the implementation of the Scoping Plan.

The case is Association of Irritated Residents vs. California Air Resources Board, CPF-09-509562

For more on the scoping plan, click these links:

Scoping Plan

Scoping Plan Timeline (Now obsolete to some degree)

Scoping Plan Appendices

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

Last week Mayor Gavin Newsom  and Recurrent Energy announced the completion of the Sunset Reservoir Solar Project.  We mentioned the story back when it started, and we’re glad to see it finished quickly! A year and a half is pretty good to install 24,000 solar panels (imagine 12 football fields) generating 5 megawatts of power (with some sources stating as high as 7 megawatts).  The energy generated can power 1,500 homes, but will be used instead by the city to power public transportation and city buildings.

The project is the result of a public-private partnership (P3) with Recurrent.  As a result, San Francisco owns the property, but leases the rights to operate the plant and sell the energy.  Under the current contract, Recurrent will sell energy to the city at $0.235 /kWh.  That price will allegedly save roughly $1 million per year in energy costs.  Through the P3 procurement method, San Francisco saves the up-front costs of implementing the system, and reaps the rewards of low cost sustainable energy.

And, let’s not forget.  The money paid to Recurrent stays right here in California.  The corporation was founded in California, pays taxes in California, and employs people in California.  71 general labor jobs – in a decimated construction industry – were created from this project.  30 percent of those jobs were for individuals from disadvantaged communities (Though they had to fight to keep those jobs).

This project looks like a win for proponents of sustainable energy, public-private partnerships, and green job promotion (The CGBB fits into that category).  It also looks to be a win for San Franciscans who will instantly see savings in energy costs to public services.

In the meantime, congratulations to Recurrent Energy and San Francisco.  The Sunset Reservoir Solar Project is currently the largest municipal solar installation in the state.  We hope more of these projects are built immediately all around California and the nation!

San Francisco Press Release Here

(For those of you wondering, “FTW” stands for “For The Win”)

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.

The burning question everyone is asking: “What is the difference between the new California Building Code (CALGreen) and third party rating systems?”  GOOD NEWS – a very handy and thorough comparison chart has arrived!

The USGBC-NCC, along with AIA California Council, AIA-SF, StopWaste, City of San Francisco, Simon and Associates, and Build it Green formed the Green Building Codes Educational Collaborative.  This group created two matrixes (one for commercial space and one for residential space) as quick reference guides to compare CALGreen to third party systems.  The matrixes are as compact as one could hope.

The commercial matrix compares CALGreen (Commercial) with LEED BD+C.  The residential matrix compares CALGreen (residential) with (GreenPoint) Build it Green and LEED for Homes.

Please click below for the complete packet I just received Friday from the USGBC-NCC.  If you like the content of these documents, please consider a membership with at least one of the groups that helped make the documents possible.

Cover Letter

Commercial Buildings

Residential Buildings

(Full disclosure, I am a member of the USGBCC-NCC, but I receive no compensation for this, or any, post on the CGBB)

Just a quick editor’s note (and honestly, a little self-promotion) to let you know I will be a panelist on September 25, 2010 at the 83rd Annual Meeting of the State Bar of California.  You don’t have to be an attorney to attend, so please consider this engaging educational event.  The Annual Meeting will be held in Monterey, California from September 23 -26.  My panel is entitled Sustainable Development: Moving Beyond Green Building Toward Sustainable Building and Master Planning, and I will be joined by Ed Quevedo and Bret Stone of the Paladin Law Group, (a great law firm by the way). 

The Annual Meeting promises to be informative, and our panel will address a number of the new developments in laws supporting sustainablity.  The keynote speaker this year is Justice Anthony Kennedy, and there are lots of other insightful speakers.  Check 0ut the dozens of sessions by clicking the link above!

While we’re discussing conferences, I want to note that West Coast Green 2010 is coming up September 30 – October 2, 2010.  Once again, West Coast Green lo0ks to be a fantastic event at the same scenic location on the bay in San Francisco.  Last year it was a lot of fun. Note that the early bird discount for West Coast Green ends today, August 20!

Also note, the USGBC’s GreenBuild, November 17-19 in Chicago, IL, has early registration going on, too (until September 10).  They have not announced the keynote speaker for GreenBuild, and it will be tough to top Al Gore from last year… who knows….  Regardless of the speakers, I attended last year, and it was a blast (though Gore was a very inspiring speaker).  It is still the largest green building conference and expo in the United States (if not the world).

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