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Incentives promote green building

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A handful of green-inspired projects and programs are in the works in East County, several aiming to refurbish properties devastated by the October 2003 wildfires.

State, county and utility-company incentive offers have stimulated green building in East County, particularly in the highly developed region's residential real estate, according to San Diego Regional Energy Office (SDREO) Program Manager Stephen Kapp.

Through its Rebuild a Greener San Diego program, SDREO offers rebates and discounts to residents who lost their homes in the fires and are rebuilding with solar-panel and other energy-efficient upgrades.

The energy office, an independent, nonprofit organization, provides up to $2,000 to homeowners whose reconstructions meet specific efficiency standards -- including use of dual-pane windows, a radiant barrier and an air-conditioner thermal expansion valve. The office provides up to $20,000 for installing a photovoltaic system.

SDREO's recent partnership with locally headquartered solar-panel manufacturer Kyocera Solar Inc. has introduced up to $4,000 more in savings for eligible residents, bringing the out-of-pocket cost for a typical system down to $7,653, according to the company. Without the incentives, a typical solar-panel system costs about three times more, $21,801.

Residents who take advantage of the offer can expect to make up the cost of the system in savings on their electricity bills within seven to 10 years, according to SDREO Director of Marketing Tom Geldner.

Currently, the program still has roughly $4.25 million available for incentives out of the $4.75 million. While residents must apply for the funds by Nov. 30, 2005, they have until Dec. 1, 2006, to complete their projects.

It has been hard for SDREO to gauge the success of the program since many people whose homes were destroyed are only just completing plans for their new residences, Geldner said.

Thirty-four projects have applied for solar-panel rebates and 150 for the efficiency incentive, according to the office. More than 2,600 homes were burned in the fires.

"It's been a lot tougher for some of these people to get their projects off the ground," he said. "(The solar-panel option) does require a lot more money, and some people are not in that mode right now."

The energy-efficiency rebate, however, should be a no-brainer because it essentially covers all upfront costs, according to Geldner.

Additional green building incentive programs are available through the county, state and San Diego Gas and Electric, including fee waivers for building permits and plan checks, and rebates. A bill offering expansive statewide incentives for homeowners and businesses that install solar-power systems was cleared by the state Senate in June and awaits an Assembly vote in August.

SDREO has worked with a number of organizations on local projects, according to Kapp, who also sits on the board of San Diego's U.S. Green Building Council chapter and heads SDREO's green building program.

The county Parks and Recreation Department has initiated one project on its Goodan Ranch and Sycamore Canyon open space preserve east of Poway, where the Cedar fire gutted several structures.

A new 3,200-square-foot structure, built to house a ranger station and various exhibits, will use recycled construction materials, an indirect cooling system and possibly a photovoltaic system, according to Project Manager Charley Marchesano.

"As a department, we really don't have many opportunities to build new buildings like this," Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Amy Harbert said. "While the fires were unfortunate, it gave us an opportunity to use this innovative technology."

The drawings are about half completed, Marchesano said, and the project has already registered for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Builders are tentatively scheduled to break ground in spring 2006, and Marchesano anticipates a one-year construction period.

The city of La Mesa also has recently begun to explore green building practices.

Following the passage last year of a $25 million bond to build a new main fire and police station, the city formed a task force to look at policy options for both public- and private-sector building, Administrative Analyst Tony Winney said.

The task force has yet to report to City Council. However, the new stations, both of which will be located in the La Mesa Civic Center, are being built with energy efficiency in mind. The $7.4 million, 20,500-square-foot fire station, scheduled for completion in spring 2006, has not sought to meet LEED standards, but the planned $17.1 million, 36,000-square-foot police building may, Winney said.

Beyond city projects, La Mesa hopes to provide private builders with incentives and resources that will encourage them to build greener.

"The problem right now is that there's a variety of organizations doing a little bit here and little there (toward green building)," Winney said. "It's a good thing for the city to combine these resources so builders know that they're out there."

For more information, visit www.rebuildsandiego.org.

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