by Kyle Kim July 7th, 2011
SUMMARY: The benefits of Washington state’s push for environmentally friendlier public buildings remain unclear, according to a legislative report. The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee’s High Performance Public Buildings report revealed they could not completely assess the program because state agencies and some school districts are failing to report information as required by law. Where a full year’s performance data was available by the reporting deadline, most high-performance buildings exceeded their estimated energy usage due to factors such as changes in design or equipment, difficulties in operating “new and complex energy technology,” greater than anticipated after-hours use of the buildings, and energy wasting by occupants such as covering vents. The committee recommended more time to measure performance and better agency compliance on submitting energy performance data.
BACKGROUND: Washington lawmakers passed ESSB 5509 in 2005, which outlined new energy performance requirements for public buildings. A key goal of the program is to find ways to lower the state and school districts’ $400 million in annual utility costs. The bill required schools, public institutions and certain receivers of construction funds from the government to adhere to the high performance building standards. High performance buildings, or green buildings, must be built to standards that promote environmental conservation. Energy Use Intensity is the main measurement for the performances of the green buildings (the amount of British Thermal Units, or BTUs, used per square foot, per year). A lower EUI means greater energy efficiency.
Reports must document actual energy usage at the end of a building’s first year in operation. In the report, “projects” are divided into four categories, but two are highlighted: a) new or retrofitted buildings of state agencies and higher educational institutions; b) new or retrofitted local K-12 school buildings.
KEY LINK: “High Performance Public Buildings: Impact on Energy Use is Mixed“ State of Washington Joint Legislative Audit & Review Committee (JLARC), June 23, 2010.
- Evidence demonstrating the program’s target outcome of high performance buildings so far is mixed and should be considered preliminary, according to the legislative report. Failure to provide energy performance reports by state agencies hindered the committee’s ability to reach a firm conclusion on the program’s effectiveness. Reasons for projects failing to comply include lack of staffing from agencies to compile the report and problems setting up and properly reading energy performance meters, JLARC staffer Mark Fleming said.
- As of June 2010, one of 37 completed state agency and university projects complied with submitting both the cost report and 12-months of operating data, Fleming said. Only fourteen of 35 completed projects from kindergarten through 12th-grade schools were classified as having submitted the mandated reporting data.(However, projects classified in the audit as having met reporting requirements may have actually submitted only one part of the mandated report, according to officials.)
- Five of seven completed green buildings that did submit energy reports by the June 2010 deadline exceeded their estimated EUI figures. The report stated, “The data indicate that energy use estimates often overestimate the savings that buildings are likely to achieve in their first years of operation” due to changes in design or equipment, difficulties in operating “new and complex energy technology,” greater than anticipated after-hours use of the buildings, and energy wasting by occupants such as covering vents.