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Greener construction for state projects could be on the horizon

House bill targets energy consumption in state-owned and leased buildings

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More than 120 state-related construction projects are in various stages of design, according to the state Department of General Services, the agency tasked with managing commonwealth facilities.

A bill that recently cleared the state House threatens to increase the upfront costs of many state-owned or substantially leased buildings while promising long-term energy savings.

Montgomery County Republican Rep. Kate Harper is the lead sponsor of House Bill 34, a measure directing state-funded projects to be built using high-performance standards.

Those standards would be selected by DGS from among accepted industry standards. For building types for which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides Energy Star ratings, HB 34 requires designs that would achieve at least an Energy Star rating of 75.

A score of 75 means it is more efficient than 75 percent of comparable buildings (see "High- performance standards," this page).

"We are talking about buildings that will be in use for decades to come," Harper said in a statement. "Investing in energy-efficient construction today is the right thing to do for both the current and future generations of Pennsylvanians."

Specifically, Harper's bill would apply to the following:

• State-owned building projects larger than 20,000 square feet;

• New building projects larger than 20,000 square feet in which the state has agreed to lease at least 90 percent of the space; and

• All renovations of state-owned or state-leased buildings larger than 20,000 square feet that apply to 90 percent of the building.

Harper introduced a similar measure last session that failed to move through the Senate.

Cost factors

A fiscal note attached to the bill is projecting that DGS would expect to incur between 2 and 5 percent higher capital budgets over a conventional building project.

Commonwealth agencies in leased facilities could pay at least 3 percent higher rents in high-performance buildings.

However, those added design and construction costs would be offset by lifetime energy savings. Different industry and research reports highlight annual energy and utility savings of 24 percent to 50 percent, depending on the type of design and energy used, the attachment reads.

The bill includes a cost recovery provision that requires the difference between any additional cost incurred in a major facility project and the lowest cost alternative to have an estimated recovery period of not more than 10 years.

DGS already has a section in its design professional agreement contracts that requires a contractor to let it know of any sustainable design measures during the preconstruction phase, said Troy Thompson, an agency spokesman.

"We look at certain aspects. If it makes fiscal sense, we do that," he said, citing sustainable designs related to lighting and water usage.

Cost efficiency is the primary factor, Thompson said, meaning the focus is generally on awarding projects to the low bidder.

DGS still is examining the bill, he added.

"The intent behind adopting these standards is one strategy to reduce energy use within state facilities. A secondary intent is to demonstrate state leadership toward reducing energy use and in promoting energy efficiency," said Karen Zivic, Harper's administrative assistant.

Several states, including Hawaii, California and New York, have enacted legislation or their governors have issued executive orders requiring green building standards for state-funded building projects, she said.

Environmental group Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, or PennFuture, heralded the Harper bill.

"Building our government facilities to these standards will save taxpayers money by cutting energy costs drastically," said Steve Stroman, policy director for PennFuture.

Buildings account for about 41 percent of energy use, 71 percent of electricity consumption and 14 percent of water use, according to PennFuture.

High-performance buildings under this proposal would lead to substantial savings in those areas, as well as reduced pollution and solid waste generation, the group said. <

High-performance standards

Several industry standards exist by which high-performance buildings are judged.

These standards include the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environment Design, or LEED. There also is the Green Building Initiative's Green Globes program and the National Association of Home Builders' Model Green Home Building guidelines.

Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. It is a national standard for evaluation of energy conservation and is incorporated into many of the building rating systems.

An energy performance score of 50 would be average for an office building, while 75 means that building is more efficient than 75 percent of office buildings nationwide.

Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jasons@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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