A “green design” federal building complex in Denver lowered energy costs to 42 percent below industry standards, according to a five-year study released while Congress debates legislation to scrap the General Services Administration’s program to encourage maximum energy efficiency and reduced environmental impact.
The Environmental Protection Agency Region 8 headquarters building is a 305,000-square-foot build-to-suit project that won gold certification under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.
Although the program is voluntary for GSA-leased buildings, several House and Senate bills would end the agency’s reliance on the council’s standards, which can penalize some building materials manufacturers whose products are not deemed the most friendly to the environment.
The Denver building — also known as 1595 Wynkoop — is a redevelopment completed in 2006 of a former postal building. It was designed as a demonstration project and many of its design elements are used in federal buildings in Montgomery and Frederick counties and elsewhere in the region.
Efforts to reduce operating costs — including energy, water and maintenance — ranged from large-scale questions about its HVAC systems to literally desktop choices that curb costs.
For example, the double-L-shaped buildings have two separately controlled HVAC systems that adjust to variable season conditions, responding to hot summer sun on the southeast and cold winter winds. At the desk level, replacing “single-function printers, copiers, scanners, and fax machines with multi-function devices yielded energy savings of 80 percent and saved $100,000 per year in operational costs.”
The result is that the building’s energy performance shows it is operating at 42 percent below industry baselines, which actually beats the 40 percent cumulative energy savings predicted during design.
Other savings came from the use of solar panels and installation of high-efficiency elevators, which were projected to use 50 percent less energy than traditional traction elevators.
As for the building’s environmental impact, the building’s carbon emissions are 50 percent below industry baseline, thanks to standard green options such as solar panels and a cooling vegetation roof.
The report also made recommendations for saving in the EPA’s energy-sapping data center.
“Data centers currently consume 2 percent of all energy in the United States, and their carbon footprint is projected to exceed that of the airline industry by 2020,” the report says. Almost half of their energy goes to non-information technology use, such as cooling. The report said that a $100,000 investment in a new air handling unit could be paid off in savings after 1.8 years.
The building’s developer, Opus Northwest, also paid close attention to efficiency and environmental impact of materials. The building is made up of 31 percent recycled content and 80 percent of construction waste was recycled.
None of these design elements are required by the GSA but the agency awards points for them and deducts points for others, based on the LEED program. Those preferences are what manmade building materials advocates oppose and they are seeking more flexible, less expensive standards.
At the moment, all efforts to scrap LEED are stalled as Republican lawmakers debate among themselves whether to try to use annual spending legislation to defund the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s major domestic policy achievement passed in 2010.
An amendment to the fiscal 2014 appropriations bill for the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, proposed by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), would bar the use of funding for a green buildings certification system that isn’t based on “voluntary consensus standards” approved by those same manufacturers. Separately, the House Appropriations Committee included the voluntary consensus requirement in the fiscal 2014 fiscal services and general government appropriations bill.
Among the other questions Congress left unanswered when members left for their August vacations was whether federal buildings would get enough money to pay their rent.
A House Appropriations committee bill passed last month would slash GSA funding by $476 million compared to fiscal 2013.
“The House Republican bill would cut nearly $2.5 billion from the President’s 2014 Budget request for GSA — dramatically reducing investments in necessary infrastructure, such as border crossings,” GSA administrator Dan Tangherlini wrote in his blog last month.
He added that, “the proposal only provides 85 percent of the necessary funds to pay our rent to the private sector. … In order to make that work, we may have to default on leases; close facilities; or even, in some extreme cases, breach our contracts, which would result in lessors charging higher leases for federal agencies.”
The bill — also tied up by the GOP Obamacare spending debate — also adds to a decade’s worth of cuts in repair funds for federally owned building. The General Services Administration’s operates the Federal Building Fund, which is financed by rent changed to agencies. But Congress controls the purse strings, and it has slashed what the agency can spend on maintenance.
Authority for repairs and alterations decreased from $1.1 billion in 2006 to $341 million in 2011, according to a 2012 study by the Government Accountability Office. That doesn’t include the one-time appropriation of $5.5 billion in stimulus money to convert federal facilities to high-performance green buildings, as well as renovate and construct federal buildings, courthouses, and land ports of entry.
The result has been to create a huge repair backlog of $4.6 billion.
“The National Academy of Sciences estimates that every dollar of building maintenance deferred today costs 4 to 5 dollars in the future. Cuts like those proposed aren’t savings,” Tangherlini wrote.
But penny-pinching by Congress is proving profitable for developers. With its own buildings in increasingly dilapidated condition, the GSA is relying more on private landlords, notes Colliers International analyst Kurt Stout in his capitolmarkets.com blog.
“This has served to increase the federal government’s reliance on leased space, benefitting private-sector landlords,” he wrote.
He added that, “Faced with this ‘new normal,’ GSA has found itself unable to invest in its owned facilities, setting the [Federal Building Fund] on a path to insolvency. The federally owned inventory is slowly deteriorating, and because GSA is required to charge market-based rents for its space, those rents are declining. The declining rents further reduce the revenue available for reinvestment in the inventory, and the circle of misery is complete.”