President Signs into Law Financial Rescue Package with Long-Awaited Extensions of Vital Energy Tax Incentives
Following a tense week of congressional negotiations and votes, the President signed into law on Friday a $700 billion financial rescue bill that also includes $17 billion in energy tax incentives, including extensions of several provisions that have already expired or were set to expire at year’s end. The energy tax package followed a long and winding road to enactment, having been jettisoned from the energy law in December and having become the subject of an ongoing debate in the House and Senate about whether and how to specify a funding source for the provisions. USGBC monitored and pressed for extensions of these vital tax incentives for more than a year, and celebrates their passage as an essential victory that will ensure continued investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.
Among other energy provisions, the new law contains several tax incentives that promise to advance greener, more energy-efficient buildings, including:
- a 1-year extension of the tax credit for the production of energy from wind, and a two-year extension of the credit for energy production from other renewable sources, such as geothermal;
- an 8-year extension of the tax credits for investment in commercial and residential solar projects, including the removal of the $2,000 cap on investments in residential solar electric installations, and the addition of small wind energy and geothermal heat pump projects as qualifying installations for tax credits;
- a 5-year extension of the tax deduction for energy-efficient commercial buildings;
- a 1-year extension of the tax credit for the construction of new energy-efficient homes;
- a 1-year extension of the tax credit for qualified energy-efficiency upgrades to existing homes;
- an extension through 2010 of the tax credit for the manufacture of energy-efficient appliances;
- and a 3-year extension of the authority for state and localities to issue tax-exempt bonds for green building and sustainable design projects.
» For a summary of the tax provisions in the new law, click here.
» For the full text of the law, click here.
USGBC Advocates Take Green Building Message to Capitol Hill
Advocates greet Rep. Ed Perlmutter on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
More than 30 advocates from USGBC chapters and affiliates across the country traveled to Washington, DC, in September to meet with staff and Members of the U.S. House of Representatives as part of USGBC’s first Congressional Advocacy Day. The “fly-in” event provided chapter advocates with an opportunity to educate Members and their staffs about the benefits of green building and about legislative opportunities to advance this important work.
Hailing from more than 20 states, USGBC’s chapter advocates participated in a day-long training about recent congressional activity and tips for advocating on behalf of green building issues before participating in meetings on Capitol Hill the following day. In addition to informing Members and staff about the work of USGBC chapters and green building projects in their districts, chapter advocates highlighted the important role that Members can play in supporting green building through participation in the House Green Schools Caucus. The Green Schools Caucus, which was launched in late 2007 and now boasts more than 60 members, seeks to raise awareness about the benefits of green schools and to provide Caucus members with educational resources to help in crafting sound green building policy.
The “fly-in” allowed chapter members, many of whom are experts in green building, architecture, and design, to apply their experience in a new way.
“We can have the most informed, experienced individuals working on the greatest of causes, and still not be able to effectively communicate and advocate on their behalf to our policy leaders. The Advocacy Day training that we received enabled us to be confident, strategic informers in the national policy arena as well as at home in our state capitols,” said April Ambrose, a member of the Central Arkansas Branch of USGBC’s Arkansas Chapter.
Following an energizing and successful day of meetings, advocates experienced a true Washington moment when they happened upon Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) on the steps of the Capitol Building while assembling for a USGBC photo. Advocates greeted and posed for a photo with Rep. Perlmutter, sponsor of the Green Resources for Energy Efficient Neighborhoods (G.R.E.E.N.) Act (H.R. 6078). USGBC has expressed its support for the G.R.E.E.N. Act, which promotes energy- and location-efficient mortgages as a means of providing consumers with greater access to energy-efficient properties, and which passed the House as part of a larger energy bill in mid-September.
The two-day event concluded with a reception, at which advocates had an opportunity to network with USGBC and congressional staff, as well as other USGBC chapter members. Rep. Matheson (D-UT), a founding co-chair of the Green Schools Caucus, addressed the advocates, thanking them for their support of green schools and reiterating his commitment to increasing awareness about their many benefits.
For additional information or to express interest in participating in future USGBC Congressional Advocacy Day activities, please contact Bryan Howard, Manager of Federal Advocacy, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“50 for 50” State Green Schools Caucus Initiative Launched at National Press Club
Representative Mary Brandenburg of Florida addresses the audience at the National Press Club.
Joined by more than 70 green building advocates and professionals from across the building, educational and environmental sectors, as well as USGBC President and CEO Rick Fedrizzi, six leading state legislators announced in August that they will be establishing “green schools” caucuses and working groups within their state legislatures. These state legislators are the first in the country to commit to USGBC’s 50 for 50 Initiative.
Launched by USGBC with the support of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, the 50 for 50 Initiative targets the creation of green schools caucuses in all fifty state legislatures within two years. The state caucus initiative is modeled after the Congressional Green Schools Caucus, which has grown to include more than sixty Members of the U.S. House of Representatives since its inception in late 2007.
Speaking to the necessity of green schools, Representatives Mimi Stewart (NM), Patricia Haddad (MA), Jeremy Kalin (MN), Karen May (IL), Mary Brandenburg (FL), and Delegate Kenneth Plum (VA) committed not only to forming green schools caucuses within their legislatures, but also to educating their colleagues and constituents about the direct impact that green schools can have on student health, test scores, teacher retention, school operating costs, and the environment.
"Green school buildings and a supporting curriculum around their economic, environmental and societal benefits will prepare our students of today to live in tomorrow's resource-constrained world. Energy conservation will be a part of daily life in the future. It's not enough to tell students that fact. We need to give them multiple opportunities to learn how to be more environmentally conscious and why it matters so much," said Delegate Kenneth Plum (VA).
Fedrizzi applauded the legislators for their leadership, noting that the new caucuses would “add the significant weight of respected legislative voices to this critically important effort of creating green schools for every child, no matter his or her economic bracket.”
In addition to organizing state legislators around this common purpose, USGBC and its state chapter network will provide a variety of educational resources to the caucuses, including up-to-date information about the latest developments in green building; networking and partnership opportunities with legislators and industry experts; and regional and national forums for presenting and sharing legislative best practices and successes.
For more information about the 50 for 50 Initiative, please contact email@example.com.
Congress Debates Several Bills Addressing Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, and Green Building
In late September, Congress passed a continuing resolution (H.R. 2638) that ensures continued funding of most federal agencies and departments at their current levels through March 6, 2009. Signed into law by the President on the final day of the federal fiscal year, the continuing resolution provides $630 billion in funding to various agencies and programs, including an additional $250 million above current funding levels for the Department of Energy’s low-income weatherization assistance program.
Several other bills now under consideration in Congress include significant and historic provisions that promote green buildings and schools, green affordable housing, building energy efficiency, and renewable energy. While the future of these measures is currently unclear, the inclusion of the following notable provisions, among others, reflects an important recognition of the role that green building and energy efficiency can play in advancing the nation’s energy independence and climate security:
- Green Schools: In late September, the House passed an economic stimulus bill (H.R. 7110) that would provide $3 billion in appropriations for the repair of schools, and the integration of energy efficiency and sustainable design principles. Similar provisions were included in the 21st Century Green High-Performance Public Schools Facilities Act (H.R. 3021) passed by the House in June.
- Agency Research and Development: The stimulus package (H.R. 7110) would appropriate an additional $500 million in funding for the Department of Energy’s energy efficiency and renewable energy programs for use in supporting related research and development activities, and demonstration projects.
The stimulus package was considered in late September, but was unable to clear a procedural vote in the Senate.
- Green Housing: In September, the House passed a comprehensive energy bill (H.R. 6899) that includes several provisions targeting improved affordability and environmental responsibility of the nation’s housing stock. Among these provisions are requirements that future affordable housing projects receiving federal HOPE VI grant funds meet green building requirements, including Enterprise’s Green Communities standard for residential units and green building programs to be specified by the HUD Secretary for nonresidential projects. Similar provisions were passed by the House in January as part of the HOPE VI Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2007 (H.R. 3524).
The energy bill also includes provisions advanced in the Green Resources for Energy Efficient Neighborhoods (G.R.E.E.N.) Act (H.R. 6078), which seeks to promote consumer access to energy-efficient properties by providing incentives to lenders and banks that offer lower-interest mortgages and other benefits to consumers who build, purchase or remodel their homes to improve energy efficiency.
The House-passed energy bill now awaits consideration by the Senate.
- Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy:The House is aiming to improve the nation’s energy efficiency through the advancement of targets for energy efficiency improvements to state and model building codes of at least 30% by 2010 and 50% by 2020. These provisions, which are included in the House-passed energy bill (H.R. 6899), recall provisions that were jettisoned from energy bill negotiations last fall. The House-passed energy bill also includes a $2.5 billion Residential Energy Efficiency Block Grant program and a Federal Renewable Portfolio Standard of 15% by 2020, as well as extensions of the energy tax incentives that were just signed into law on Friday as part of the financial rescue package.
- Public Transportation: The House-passed energy bill (H.R. 6899) authorizes $1.7 billion in capital and operating funds for public transit agencies to expand services, promote the increased use of public transit, and encourage the use of alternative fuels. Similar freestanding legislation was passed by the House earlier this year.
President Signs Historic Environmental Education Legislation for Universities
In mid-August, just weeks before the start of the academic year, President Bush signed into law historic legislation that promises to enrich future sustainability course offerings, initiatives and practices at colleges and universities nationwide.
Passed as part of a larger education bill (H.R. 4137), the Higher Education Sustainability Act (HESA) authorizes the creation of a new grant program to support academic and campus operational initiatives that promote sustainable practices in a range of areas, including energy and waste management, green building, purchasing, and transportation. The law also directs the creation of a national sustainability summit to join higher education experts working on sustainability issues, federal agency representatives, and private sector leaders in a discussion of strategies and best practices for integrating sustainability within higher education.
USGBC worked as part of a diverse coalition of more than 220 educational institutions and associations, corporations and nonprofit organizations, led by the Campaign for Environmental Literacy, to secure passage of this critical legislation.
“The HESA is a huge step forward that furthers higher education’s ability to inspire future leaders in the green movement. The ability to have green buildings on campus and funding for additional green content enhances the student’s educational experience,” said Melissa Gallagher-Rogers, USGBC’s Manager of Government and Higher Education Sectors.
USGBC applauds Congress and the President for taking this important step to prepare future generations to address mounting energy and climate challenges, and looks forward to working with policymakers to ensure robust funding of these new programs.
» For the full text of the law, click here.
Advocacy Works: California Adopts Statewide Green Building Standard
Continuing its leadership in advancing forward-thinking and effective policies for addressing current climate and energy challenges, California in July adopted a voluntary green building code—the first of its kind in the United States—which encourages builders of commercial facilities to reduce the energy use of their structures by 15% more than current standards. California’s Green Building Standards Code sets forth standards for energy efficiency, water consumption, landfill waste reduction and environmentally sensitive building materials.
The code—adopted by of the California Building Standards Commission (BSC)—addresses new commercial and residential construction in the public and private sectors, hospitals, and other public institutions and will be available for voluntary use by builders and localities in July of 2009. No new green building standards beyond code were adopted for school construction, but the State expects to do so in 2010. Mandated compliance with parts of the code is expected for all new construction in the state after 2010. The code contains language stating that it does not preempt local governments from going above and beyond the BSC’s newly adopted code.
USGBC President and CEO Rick Fedrizzi applauded California’s adoption of the code, stating “The LEED green building certification system helped lead the way while setting the stage for states and municipalities to strengthen local-building codes. Buildings are our first, best opportunity to reduce energy use and CO2 emissions, and greening them must be a critical component of any policy approach that aims to fight climate change."
Dan Geiger, Executive Director of USGBC-Northern California Chapter (NCC), acknowledged the strategic coalition work of representatives of the NCC, other California USGBC chapters, AIA-COTE California Council, the National Resources Defense Council, and other advocacy organizations in analyzing the standards, developing comments and providing testimony for the BSC on California’s new green building code.
“We applaud the State on this first step in developing a green building code for California and are encouraged that the State has committed to making these standards mandatory in the 2010 code update cycle. As a result of a strong coalition of USGBC California Chapters and key partners from throughout the state working together on an important green building policy issue, we had significant involvement in shaping the final outcome and improving areas of concern. We will continue to work with BSC staff and others to ensure that the 2010 mandatory edition of the code will be at a threshold that California can be proud of, will protect the sovereignty of local governments that want to adopt their own standards and will be complementary to the USGBC’s LEED rating system.”
To keep pace with rapidly changing green technology and methods of construction, the California Green Building Standards Code will be updated on an annual basis after 2010.
In other recent California news, on September 30, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law SB 375, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by addressing land use planning policies through preferred growth scenarios. Authored by Senate President pro-Tempore-elect Darrell Steinberg (Sacramento), the legislation has been called a national model for addressing climate change pollutants caused by automobile transportation. Under AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, the state must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020.
» View the California Green Building Standards Code here.
Webinar Series: Creating a Green Government
On October 28, 2008, USGBC will host the first webinar of a 3-part series focused on state and local green building initiatives. The series will feature speakers from across the nation sharing strategies and success stories from their experiences developing green building programs. If you are an advocate, policy maker, government official, or anyone working on new or existing government buildings, please join us to learn more about the LEED Green Building Rating System and other green building resources.
For additional information, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
State & Local Green Building Toolkit
USGBC is collaborating with the National Association of State Facilities Administrators (NASFA) to develop a toolkit for implementing LEED-based green building programs at the state and local levels. The Toolkit is a collection of peer-developed resources and strategies, including model procurement documents, guides for project management, and anecdotes about best practices.
The Toolkit will be available for download in PDF format in early 2009 and will be fully available later in the year. Similar to the Playbook for Green Buildings and Neighborhoods, which provides resources to assist in the development of green building policy, the Toolkit Web site will serve as a dynamic platform for collecting and sharing best practices for implementing green building programs, discussing common barriers, and accelerating peer-to-peer learning.
For additional information, please e-mail: email@example.com
From the Desk of: Steve Bellone, Supervisor, Town of Babylon, New York
Steve Bellone has served since 2002 as the Town Supervisor of Babylon, NY, and since 1995 as a public servant of Babylon. A Babylon native, Bellone has established himself as a leader in sustainability within the region and nationally as a policy innovator. In this interview with USGBC, Supervisor Bellone shares details and commentary on Babylon’s green building policy successes, adding context and inspiration for local governments across the United States.
1. Tell us a bit about the Town of Babylon’s recently launched Long Island Green Homes program.
Long Island Green Homes (LIGH) is a self-financing residential retrofit program for upgrading the energy efficiency of existing homes at little or no out-of-pocket cost to the homeowner. Even the nominal qualifying fee for the Home Performance Evaluation will be applied to the cost of the improvements. The Town will pay the licensed contractor once he has satisfactorily completed the work. The homeowner, who is not obliged to take on debt, will then repay the Town on a monthly basis for an amount and term agreed upon in advance. Once the obligation is satisfied, typically in six to ten years, all of the savings go directly to the homeowner. Should the homeowner move before the obligation is satisfied, it is assigned to the home. As the house’s energy efficiency has been certified by the Town, it will be more marketable, even though the Town will not be increasing the assessment of houses that have added energy enhancements.
The Town is not making loans to residents. Mindful that the average house in the Town spews the equivalent of 25lbs of carbon daily, Babylon is expanding the definition of solid waste to include energy waste, based on its carbon content. By defining energy waste in this way, the Town is able to provide energy-efficiency improvements to residents’ homes from its solid waste fund. This type of measure is known as a “benefit assessment.” When a municipality provides a specific improvement on a parcel of property for a public purpose, assessing the cost of the benefit against the property, that is a benefit assessment. In the case of Long Island Green Homes, energy-efficiencies for houses serve a vital purpose, remediating environmental damage caused by leaky and inefficient homes. The Town will subsidize up to $12,000 of efficiencies per home, obliging the homeowner to pay a monthly benefit assessment fee. In year one, the amount of the monthly fee is structured to be less than the monthly savings on a resident’s energy bills. The Town will levy a 3% administrative fee incorporated into the monthly payments.
For homes that are already energy-efficient, the Town may help fund the installation of renewable energy systems like solar, and potentially, vertical wind turbines.
2. What distinguishes Long Island Green Homes from other local residential green building programs?
Virtually all residential green programs are focused on new home construction. In 2006, Babylon was the first town on Long Island to adopt Energy Star standards for new homes, and later in the year codified LEED certification for all new commercial and industrial buildings over 4,000 square feet. But 36% of Babylon’s carbon footprint is produced by our 65,000 houses, most of which are forty to fifty years old and leak like sieves--a condition shared by most of the housing stock on Long Island.
There are not many home retrofit programs, but those that we have seen are not designed to bring about scalable change because they don’t eliminate the barriers to such change. Homeowners are incapable of, in many cases, assuming new debt burdens. They are, at best, reluctant to spend thousands on work they can’t see or touch, and they will not make such improvements unless these attach to the home for fear they will pay the cost and the benefit will go elsewhere. With Long Island Green Homes, we have eliminated these barriers. Since the Town pays the contractor directly, the homeowner faces no new debt burdens, no out-of-pocket costs, and in the majority of cases, no operating costs.
3. What inspired the Town of Babylon to develop this program?
The initial inspiration for Long Island Green Homes was the energy service company (ESCO) model. We knew from our goal to retrofit town facilities that an ESCO would make energy upgrades and guarantee that the resulting savings would cover the monthly capital costs. But the difference in doing one job for $3,000,000, as opposed to 500 jobs at $6,000 for each, comes down to administrative costs, not to mention more attractive financial terms available to municipalities. So we had a chassis, not the engine. We set about designing one.
Our efforts accelerated after attending Greenbuild last year in Chicago. I sat in on the REGREEN seminar and came out determined to create a retrofit model that would enable the working class families of Babylon to green their homes.
Of course, necessity played a role. We have pledged to reduce our emissions in Babylon by 12% by the year 2012. Recognizing that mandating green building for new homes and buildings would not get us close to our goal, we turned to our existing housing stock.
4. What have you learned from other localities addressing climate change through residential green building?
We started out by studying the Cambridge model, which has been in existence since the 90’s. Portland has been at this for some time as well and has a very vigorous green building program, and robust support and web-based information. San Francisco has been codifying energy standards since the early 80’s. Berkeley has attached solar financing to a property owner’s tax bill. And Boulder provided the seed for going to our solid waste fund, as they had added a levy to refuse charges to finance their green programs.
5. What can other local governments learn from Babylon?
In the absence of a national energy policy and with a mixed bag from the state, the town has taken a bottom-up approach, rather than waiting on top-down dictums and assistance. Moreover, we consistently apply cost-benefit analysis to lay out a hierarchy of do-able measures.
Long Island Green Homes is an initiative that municipalities are uniquely equipped to do because of our jurisdiction over zoning and building. In addition, so much of this program is dependent upon convincing residents, many of whom are overburdened with debt and strapped for cash, that this program makes sense for them. As the government that is closest to the people we are best positioned to make a convincing argument.
Finally, we are using the Town’s solid waste fund as a way to provide the initial financing for the program and as a mechanism to attach the improvements to the home. There are other ways to do this. A municipality could provide financing through bonds and place the assessment on the tax bill. Since the program is voluntary, no one has to worry that they will face an unwanted assessment. The most important thing is to establish a program that eliminates the major barriers to scalability.
6. How can others get involved and build on Babylon’s success?
We expect other municipalities, particularly here on Long Island, to follow LIGH very closely. We saw this with Energy Star standards, and now nine of the Island’s thirteen municipalities are on board. Municipalities would be well advised to study what we have engineered, and to begin by setting up the logistics and familiarizing the appropriate staff with the energy analysis software that quantifies prospective houses.
We are planning on working with State officials to create a revolving loan fund that could be tapped by municipalities that have established retrofit programs. New York State Governor David Paterson has laid out an ambitious energy agenda, and conservation is a major priority for him. We are also working with the Long Island Power Authority, which is offering significant incentives for energy efficiency under the Efficiency Long Island program.
Babylon will make the case that Long Island Green Homes is the most cost-effective way to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and to have a positive impact on climate change. Moreover, the program pays for itself, creates local green collar jobs, and puts money back into the pockets of homeowners.
The Playbook for Green Buildings + Neighborhoods
Local governments - Find the tools and resources to rapidly advance green buildings, neighborhoods and infrastructure. Strategic action in these sectors promotes economic development, builds healthier communities, strengthens energy independence, and supports climate protection.
Build Green Schools
BuildGreenSchools.org gives students, parents, teachers, school administrators, elected officials and community members a new resource in the effort to ensure a future of green schools for every child within a generation.
USGBC LEED Public Policy Search
Search for existing LEED initiatives in governments and schools based on numerous criteria, such as level of government, date of passage, location, type of building, and LEED rating system.
Through a variety of resources, USGBC also encourages and facilitates the exchange of information among cities, counties, states and federal agencies to advance the successful development and implementation of green building programs. Here, governments have access to best practices, lessons learned and other initiatives already in place across the country.
Greenbuild365 is an online portal to green building education. This is the place to find courses, get "bytes" on building green, and access education session recordings from the annual Greenbuild Expo.