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GUEST OPINION: Consider incentives for existing buildings, too


A previous guest opinion by architect Bill Dikis on April 6 highlighted Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) buildings for healthy initiatives. That article noted that a bill being considered by the legislature would award partial property tax rebates for buildings that achieve different levels of LEED “benchmarks.” Most people have the perception that in order for a building to become a LEED building, it has to be designed and built that way. However, there are also LEED benchmarks for existing buildings.

Two well-known Des Moines examples are the Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield facility, the highest level LEED award for a new structure, and our old library, now the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates, which also achieved the highest rating of Platinum for an existing structure. Both earned these ratings through many hours of engineering and design work by talented architects and many hours of filling out extensive paperwork.

Certainly these buildings deserve extra incentive to help justify the expense and efforts to attain this rating. A LEED building offers decreased operating expense, with a reasonable payback over a “standard” building. However, retrofitting a building and the application process has become a disincentive for many building owners.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also has a benchmarking system for existing buildings. The process requires a building survey to determine which measurement factors will be utilized in a comparative rating, such as location and size, along with 12 months of energy usage data.

The building is then compared against similar buildings in a comparable climate, and then energy cost per square foot determines the ranking. Any building rated 75 or higher (on a scale of 0-100) qualifies for Energy Star designation. Once that rating is achieved, the building can be submitted to the EPA. The final step is to print forms and the report, and have them certified by a professional engineer. Though this designation does not necessarily mean that the structure is as healthy as a LEED building and does not take into account all the qualifiers that a LEED building must utilize, it does offer a more palatable process for most building owners.

While the benefits of an Energy Star building are less pollution, energy use, and, of course, cost savings, would a tax credit be appropriate?

More often than not, HVAC maintenance, controls and lighting can have very short capital payback and produce long-term energy savings. That alone might be justification. If Senate File 2046 rewards a LEED building, which also receives payback on operating costs, should an Energy Star rated building also be included?

Interestingly, the Energy Star rating is only for a one-year period, which means each year the building has to be re-evaluated to make sure it is still rated 75 or higher. That means the building must continue to be properly maintained. And as new, more efficient technology becomes the standard, the building must keep up with other similar buildings in the area.

Because buildings account for a very large percentage of our total energy use and may be one of the easiest to “fix,” should we apply an extra nudge via a tax incentive to help justify improvements and equipment maintenance?

– Greg France is an account executive at Stroh Corp., a Des Moines energy consulting firm.rvice consulting.

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