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.

In an effort to foster student interest in law that touches on sustainable development, I reached out to my alma mater, New York Law School.  I credit two wonderful professors, Andrew Berman and David Schoenbrod, with cultivating my interest in green building.  Both professors are with the Center For Real Estate Studies at New York Law School, and one of the students in the program, Sonia Gutkin, took me up on an offer to write a post for the CGBB.

Sonia decided to cover the Air Conditioning Heating and Refrigeration Institute, et al. v. City of Albuquerque and BIAW, et al. v. Washington State Building Code Council cases.  Please find her great coverage below:


By Sonia Gutkin

Federal law regulates energy use and efficiency of some specific products used in buildings. States are not permitted to change that law – they are preempted unless a state or local code adheres to an exception provision. The law itself lays out very specific exceptions, described in more detail below.


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.


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

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: http://bleer.lbl.gov/?p=635)

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…)


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