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Green building bill splits industry

By Paul Snyder

Builders, local officials and school board members are at odds over the value of a bill that would mandate green construction on public projects.

But that mixed reaction is not affecting state Rep. Louis Molepske Jr., D-Stevens Point, who said Thursday he wants to get his bill to the governor’s desk before the legislative session ends next month.

“I don’t believe we can’t get it done in the time we have left,” he said. “I haven’t heard a lot of people opposed to the goals of building efficient. The debate is just over whether it should be mandated.”

Molepske’s bill would require new public buildings or building additions of at least 10,000 gross square feet achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design silver certification.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification involves an independent third-party review of a building’s design, construction and performance in terms of energy and water efficiency, material and resource use, sustainable site development and indoor air quality.

The bill extends LEED silver requirements to state government, local government and public school district projects.

The bill also affects one- and two-family homes throughout Wisconsin, said Brad Boycks, government affairs director of the Wisconsin Builders Association. One section of the bill lets local governments exceed the state’s uniform dwelling code, which all newly built one- and two-family homes must meet. If local governments are allowed to push beyond the code requirements, Boycks said, it would create a patchwork of energy codes and a confusing array of what can be built from one city to the next.

“It would just be bad for business,” he said. “Our first priority right now is trying to get that out of the bill.”

But it’s a piece of the bill Molepske said he’s not yet willing to lose.

“I’m willing to talk with the builders about that,” he said. “But there’s nothing in the bill that I’m ready to say I’ll let go or change. I’m not going to try to do something that’s not beneficial to the public.”

Joining the WBA on Molepske’s call sheet will be the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, the Wisconsin Association of School Boards and the Wisconsin State Council of Carpenters, all of which either spoke or registered against the bill Wednesday at a public hearing.

State Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, a member of the state Building Commission and Assembly Committee on Jobs, the Economy and Small Business, said he’s not ready to vote for Molepske’s bill.

“I have real mixed feelings about telling local governments and school districts what they have to do,” Hintz said Thursday. “The big argument for the bill yesterday was, ‘Well it just makes sense.’
“Well, if it just makes sense, then these groups can make the decisions on their own.”

But the bill has supporters. Representatives from the Wisconsin Green Building Alliance, Appleton-based The Boldt Co. and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 159 all voiced their support of the bill Wednesday.

Molepske said the state already mandates its buildings be 30 percent more energy efficient than required by the commercial building code. He said his bill just creates a measuring stick.
And he will not back off that mandate.

“We can get the information of what we’re spending on utilities on our buildings, but if that’s $125 million every year, why can’t it be $100 million?” Molepske said. “If my colleagues are looking for ways to save dollars, this seems to me like a way to do that.”


  1. Keith Spruce, Architect

    The rockets are in flight regarding green building code legislation in Wisconsin, the newest kid on the block, AB 843 on the skids of U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED-Silver Rating system and ported locally by the Wisconsin Green Building Alliance, is missing the jet fuel called a ‘cost factor analysis’. It’s big brother, the massive joint AB 649/SB 450 aka The Clean Energy & Jobs Act so far has cleared the first round of economic scrutiny and is now docked for cuts and edits, promising to be back in flight by the end of April. It promises PSC computed energy cost saving electrical utility rates, for example, ranging from 0.7% to 5.4% through the year 2025 recognized as a valid study by the Senate Select Committee on Energy.

    Both bills attempt to codify the executive order mandate of a 30% higher performance for green building for state building projects, which we already have in force. But the LEED bill gets out the corral attempting to apply high performance green building standards to much of our commercial building construction projects; a precursor of an idea that points to the future world on alternative energy and environmental healing, all great ideas if we could afford to do it.

    The LEED bill further uses a voluntary rating system which seems daunting to covert into an enforceable building code, while the Clean Energy bill rightly leaves that task to Commerce’s Safety & Buildings to integrate an already available new green building code and standards developed by industry consensus into our existing suite of adopted codes such as the International Green Construction Code and ASHRAE 189.1 standard for high performance buildings.

    All in all, the PSC study concludes in all likelihood Wisconsin will be spending more on electricity in the long run if we don’t act to embrace renewable portfolio standards and take more aggressive action on energy efficiency– all in the interest of a securing a stable energy economy for Wisconsin’s future.

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