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California green building regulations: Baseline for energy efficiency credits

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It can be said that 2009 is the Year of the Green. Some of California's Green Building Regulations may take effect as early as July 1, 2009 as Californians await the State of California Building Standards Commission to complete its work on the California Green Building Standards Code, which it adopted in mid-2008 as voluntary standards. The green building regulations would require a 15 percent reduction in overall energy use.

California's green building regulations do not take effect until July 1. They will remain voluntary until the commission completes its work on mandatory regulations, which it hopes to have in place by late 2010 and early 2011. The highlights of the green building regulations are set forth in the following goals:

¥ Twenty percent reduction in water use for all new construction through low-flow toilets, waterless urinals and dual plumbing for potable and gray water;

¥ Fifty percent reduction in water use for landscaping by utilizing such approaches as native plants, drip irrigation systems and bioswales;

¥ Use of environmentally sensitive materials like eco-friendly flooring, carpeting, paint, coatings, thermal insulation, acoustical wall and ceiling panels, and other recycled building materials;

¥ Fifteen percent reduction in overall energy use for all new construction by employing such strategies as solar energy, Energy Star-certified appliances, highly-reflective roofs, and elevators and escalators that move only passengers.

The green building regulations only set a floor, not a ceiling, and do not prevent municipalities from enacting more stringent standards than the state. They would not prevent allowing more aggressive offsets to be undertaken within a U.S. Cap and Trade system. This would give financial incentives in the form of carbon credits for larger reductions than the baseline green building regulations because greater reductions come at an increased cost. Initial reductions are often simple things like changing light bulbs, and do not have a significant economic impact.

In April 2008, Los Angeles became the largest U.S. city to enact mandatory green building standards for private development. Los Angeles' mandatory program applies generally to new development and remodels of non-residential development over 50,000 square feet, or 50 residential units, and requires compliance with the criteria for a LEED certified rating.

San Francisco also recently enacted a city-wide Green Building Ordinance, which is the approximate equivalent of achieving LEED gold certification.

The most common argument against green and sustainable building practices is the upfront costs of implementing such measures and using such materials. Green building supporters respond that although a building may cost more to build on the front end, the sustainable building will perform better, i.e., consume less energy, be more water-use efficient, etc., thus leading to a greater return on investment and a higher net operating income for the property.

Although green and sustainable building practices are an easy rallying point and have made important strides recently, the green building movement has raised the stakes and created new and still-developing issues that the construction and real estate industries must now face.

Evia, LEED AP, is an associate in the San Francisco office of Gordon & Rees. He counsels clients on LEED contract documents and all aspects of the LEED certification process, including credits, credit interpretation requests and appeals, as well as emerging government regulations.

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