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Lawmaker eases green building bill standards (UPDATE)

By Paul Snyder

A Wisconsin lawmaker is easing some of the requirements in his green building bill making its way through the state Capitol. But the changes may not go far enough to gain some municipal groups’ support.

State Rep. Louis Molepske Jr., D-Stevens Point, said his bill still would require all public buildings of at least 10,000 square feet — including state, municipal and public school district projects — be built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design silver standards. But the measure no longer would mandate LEED certification.

“We’re making it flexible enough so that the (Wisconsin Department of Administration) would determine whether a building is built to an energy efficient standard that, at the base, meets the LEED silver standard,” he said. “That way, the third party review doesn’t have to be the (U.S. Green Building Council). It can be Green Globes or any similar type of third party audit.”

Molepske Jr.

Molepske Jr.

Green Globes was developed by the Green Building Initiative as an alternative to LEED and is the preferred green building standard in Canada. The Green Globes registration and verification cost is about $5,000 to $7,000 per project, which is less than LEED’s general certification costs of $10,000 or more.

An executive session on the bill was scheduled for Wednesday, but Molepske postponed the vote. He said he still wants to speak with some of the bill’s detractors and give members of the Assembly Committee on Jobs, the Economy and Small Business at least 24 hours to review any changes.

The Wisconsin Alliance of Cities originally opposed the bill, and Executive Director Ed Huck said he has not seen any changes yet. Huck said he is encouraged by Molepske’s openness to other third party reviews, but is not reversing his opposition yet.

“It would take some significant steps to move us,” he said. “But we’re open.”

Molepske’s original bill also failed to gain support from the League of Wisconsin Municipalities — the league was officially neutral — and Curt Witynski, the group’s assistant director, said the changes likely would not be enough to gain the league’s backing. But, Witynski said, Molepske is “heading in the right direction.”

Nobody challenged the original bill’s intent to encourage development of more green buildings in Wisconsin, Molepske said. Instead, he said, the battle has been over how to achieve that goal. He said LEED silver standards should not be difficult for builders.

“It was said in testimony that if you’re not already building to LEED silver, you should find a new job,” he said. “It’s pretty easy to get there.”

Eric Truelove, director of sustainable design services for The Renschler Co., Madison, disagreed.

“My concern is people saying, ‘We’re already doing this,’” he said.

Developers might loosely follow green building standards, but without third party verification, Truelove said, it’s difficult to support their claims of being green. The reason many buildings do not get LEED certified, he said, is because of the associated costs and paperwork.

It’s helpful to open the field up to include Green Globes and other certification processes — Truelove said Renschler developed its own certification process that can be done for $1,000 — but he said allowing a third party of the owner’s choosing opens the doors to dishonesty.

“People are generally good,” he said. “But people will also say they’re doing things when no one’s watching.”

A companion bill by state Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, has been introduced to the Senate Committee on Ethics Reform and Government Operations. Terry Tuschen, the committee clerk, said the committee will not hold any hearings until early April, and that no hearings have been scheduled for the green building bill.

Molepske said the Assembly version will be ready Tuesday for a committee vote.

“The intent always was in the bill to make sure the projects were built with audits,” he said. “We still want to accomplish that original goal.”

4 comments

  1. Keith Spruce, Architect

    Moving higher levels of energy conservation and ecological health into state law for building codes is facing some challenges from all angles including cost-justification, amiss proposed regulatory provisions and maybe just some plain lack of a coordinated consensus building progress upon our shared Wisconsin Energy Policy, moving forward.

    Were talking about high performance green buildings (HPGB) that save upwards of 30% or more energy usage while achieving cost-effectiveness over a life-cycle payback of the building’s use that is becoming the standard not unreasonably burdensome on a cost-effective basis, if the legislature could provide the facts to back this up. And this is an entirely feasible proposal based on an old educational idea of doing the homework. HPGB at 30% energy savings has become the national and Wisconsin benchmark for the next level of reasonable goals for conservation and ecology with cost-effectiveness of the building life cycle in mind.

    It’s important that as Wisconsin progresses on this path that we don’t loose sight of our energy goals we, the people of Wisconsin begot, spelled out in our first Statutory Chapter 1.12, under meeting our energy demands: “In designing all new and replacement energy projects, a state agency or local governmental unit shall rely to the greatest extend feasible on energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy resources, if the energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy resources are cost-effective and technically feasible and do not have unacceptable environmental impacts.” And do so in the “priorities, in the order listed: energy conservation & efficiency, noncombustible renewable energy resources, combustible renewable energy resources, and nonrenewable combustible energy resources in the order listed: natural gas, oil or coal with sulfur < 1%, and all other carbon-based fuels.”

    Moving HPGB efforts into Wisconsin law and into the building code will continue to have a tough road ahead as long as HPGB bills proposal to mandate before cost-justifying or get off track with our State Energy Policy. This would seem a simple matter that the cart does not move in front of the horse as common sense dictates, but we’re all patiently waiting for logic and consensus building to come together once again with hopeful eyes.

    Economic analysis that’s needed to cost-justify HPGB rests on computer modeling of the likes of energy futures, material-energy life cycle costing from cradle to grave, carbon tax futures and other good stuff like that. In Wisconsin a few agencies modeling these things include the PSC and DOA State facilities life-cycle costing models, which can and have provided a few parts to the needed cost-analysis puzzle we need to make legislative decisions. National groups, with deeper pockets and more heads, of the likes of the DOE, EPA and ASHRAE, a society of engineers promoting a sustainable world through the creation of standards used for buildings, have done comprehensive computer modeling of energy and costs.

    Also, proposed regulatory standards for HPGB might be best defined by Wisconsin under our already adopted open model codes and standards that reflect our State Energy Policy, rather than sort through the flash magazines that display Green Globes or LEED designer labels, all well intended but from private consortiums and not from we, the people. We like to wear the trends on special occasions by choice and special affordability, not necessarily as underwear every day. Building codes and standards are complex beasts perhaps best left to our State’s Commerce Safety & Buildings and their standing code advisory councils that bring a balanced representation of Wisconsin’s building industry, professional architectural and engineering expertise to the table to develop the building codes, we know and use in Wisconsin.

    In 2002, we, the people of Wisconsin decide to substantially abandon our very own Wisconsin building code and adopt a suite of codes and standards under a national model agency, the International Code Council. The International Code Council brings us the already adopted International Energy Conservation Code and now the newer Green Construction Code on the horizon coupled with energy and ecology standards under ASHRAE 189.1, the national benchmark of HPGB, which we should examine further and consider in the mainstream of our State’s chosen code path development. Do we want to change this all?

    Since LEED is a trade marked proprietary rating system, it’s surprising to see legislation that continues to reference the need for 3rd party evaluations and audits when we have state building codes and state/municipal building inspectors that do that now, code promulgation rule development and enforcement already well established under our statutory process and under Commerce’s regulatory eye. With HPGB and adoptable and enforceable green codes and standards already on the horizon under our usual code provider, it’s seems off key to suggest the need for a proprietary 3rd party rating system or regulate our state and municipal regulators by regulations of 3rd party regulators or audits on top of that, or something like that.

    At the national level, codes and standards for HPGB try best to be developed to seek open consensus and equal representation as possible, despite claims that special interests groups compete for control of a piece of the pie, it’s the best that our nation can do. I know are doing the same here in Wisconsin, it will all just take some time to work out the kinks and educate all of us with the cost-effectiveness that our State Energy Policy calls for to justify moving high performance green building codes, as our State coat of arms points to our Wisconsin pride, ‘Forward.’

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