Monthly Archives: October 2009

Wind Farms: Are They Worth it?

A USA Today article reported that thousand of birds are being slaughtered by wind turbines in the Altamont Pass in California. Five thousand four hundred wind turbines were installed and birds that were sadly affected include Golden Eagles, Red Tail Hawks and Burrowing Owls. In other cases, local wildlife activists are disputing locations of wind turbines in the Atlantic, which will disturb migratory birds. I am appalled at the fact that we are so thirsty for electricity that we’d rush to install wind farms in locations that are hurting some of the greatest wildlife we have in the world.

I have not seen the studies to back-up these location choices. It seems the electrical industry is so gung-ho to produce renewable energy that they damn the consequences. It’s ironic that we’re trying to save the environment by building these clean energy plants, while disturbing the delicate natural environment and sending countless animals to their Maker. I fully support steps to reduce our carbon footprints, but not at this cost.

The current Administration has issued incentives for renewables and every wind turbine manufacturer in the country is scouring the land to find a spot to plop their machines down as there are no guarantees for how long these programs will run. Renewables are sexy and it seems to be our President’s ambition to blanket the nation with clean energy sources. Unfortunately, the execution of this agenda is socially irresponsible.

Critics plainly state that we are polluting the air (I agree), and that we must take any measures to remedy the situation. However, there are many options for reducing our environmental impact. The cost to install a wind turbine and remove that load from the electrical grid is approximately $0.11/kw. To save the same kilowatt from the electrical grid via energy efficiency would only cost $0.03. If that’s not a cost-effective alternative, I don’t know what is.

McKinsey published the “Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the U.S. Economy” report, indicating that the best way we can reduce our carbon footprint is through energy efficiency programs in existing buildings. Buildings consume 40% of our total energy usage. Of that percentage, running an HVAC system accounts for 40% to 60% of energy consumption. In addition, a DOE-funded study concludes the single most effective measure to reduce energy consumption and decrease the carbon footprint is to concentrate on upgrading existing buildings and their operations via an existing building commissioning or energy audit program.

I propose we focus on improving the efficiency of our existing buildings, rather than racing to construct wind farms that cause more damage than good. The economics make sense, jobs are created and it’s still good for the environment.

Mr. Obama please read the reports generated by your own Administration, stop pushing the sexy things and start pushing what makes sense.

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Green Today, Gone Tomorrow

The USGBC recently launched its new program (v.03) that includes recertification of buildings each year. In addition, the LEED-EB program has a recertification component that must be completed annually. There has been an uproar in the green building industry arguing that a building is not just about energy consumption, but also the types of construction material used, site selection and occupant comfort.

I agree that material selection and indoor environmental quality is just as important to getting a building certified as being energy efficient. However, let’s not kid ourselves in thinking that a building that fails to remain a good steward of the environment should continue to hold the privilege of being called a green building. A building that drastically consumes more energy than when it was originally certified has issues that require investigation. Sadly, the green has wilted away and has turned brown.

Let’s look back at why we call it sustainable building. Sustainability focuses on constructing a building that efficiently consumes energy, water and other resources with minimum impact to occupants and the environment. How a building consumes energy and expunges waste contributes to its carbon footprint. Current technology does not allow for buildings to operate fully on clean energy; therefore, existing buildings continue to leave huge footprints causing irreversible damage to the environment. It should be every building’s goal to keep its footprint to a minimum by performing proper maintenance on its systems and constantly monitoring its energy patterns to identify opportunities for conservation.

Optimal building sites, sustainable building materials and healthy indoor air quality are important characteristics for green buildings and should be incorporated into the certification process. These factors should be considered at the baseline and are unlikely to change significantly overtime. However with daily use, a building’s systems and equipment may come out of sync, become old, outdated and inefficient, resulting in greater consumption of energy and increased waste. Without constant vigilance to determine how much energy these buildings consume on a daily basis, we cannot guarantee that these buildings are living up to their green labels. Without these requirements for energy monitoring, I agree with critics who favor decertification of buildings who fail to meet LEED standards following their initial certification.

The LEED certification process says a lot about how building owners view energy. Following a comprehensive design, an energy model should be performed to predict how the building will function. But it shouldn’t stop there. I’ve seen companies brag about their supposed “LEED-certified” buildings, screw the plaque onto their pristine walls before commissioning is completed and actual building performance is validated. What message is the USGBC sending when they give certifications out before performance is verified? There is no value to the plaque if a building doesn’t measure up to LEED standards from the beginning or throughout its lifecycle.

I have requested the USGBC to modify its program during revisions in LEED-NC 2.2 and my suggestions fell on deaf ears. If the USGBC will not change its policy on certifying new buildings prior to validating its energy consumption, then I say grab the screwdriver and uninstall the plaque after the first year if the building doesn’t meet Energy Star requirements. This may sound harsh, but we must have integrity and make sure our buildings perform as we say they do.

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