Building advocates eye Berliner’s energy package -- Gazette.Net


Two building industry representatives believe the effect of several bills by Montgomery County Councilman Roger Berliner on energy efficiency and clean energy will have to be determined.

Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda plans to submit a package of 11 bills and two zoning amendments that would seek to improve the energy efficiency of buildings in the county, as well as promote environmentally friendly policies such as streamlining the process for creating charging stations for electric cars.

One of the bills would require building owners to track their buildings’ energy efficiency and make the information available to the public so tenants would be better able to predict the cost of utilities.

Another would require new buildings to install an electric vehicle charging station for every 50 spaces in a parking lot, while a third would require all new commercial buildings to meet the Silver standard for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design as determined by the U.S. Green Building Council.

New commercial buildings in Montgomery have to be LEED-certified, although county buildings must meet the more demanding Silver standard.

Robert Kaufman, vice president of governmental affairs for the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association, based in Silver Spring, said he sees the bill requiring owners to track, or benchmark, their buildings’ energy efficiency as being potentially very expensive, and said owners already have a natural incentive for reducing energy costs in the form of lower utility bills.

Kaufman said he would rather see the county provide tax credits for companies that choose to benchmark rather than require them to do it.

Benchmarking energy usage is not a new issue in Maryland, said Tom Ballentine, vice president of policy and government relations for NAIOP Maryland, formerly known as the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties.

There’s already a tremendous incentive for building owners to track energy efficiency because when you lower a building’s operating costs you increase in value, he said.

On the Silver LEED-certified bill, Kaufman wondered how the county planned to maintain the standards over time.

Once you pass something with standards in it, how do you keep the standards current, Kaufman asked.

Most new, premium office space is Silver LEED-certified, Ballentine said.

The gap between building codes and LEED certification also has narrowed over time, he said.

Providing charging stations for electric cars could be a selling point for builders of condominiums or apartment buildings, Kaufman said.

But he said current electric car batteries can take several hours to charge, meaning a space at the charger would be occupied for some time.

There also is the issue of who will pay for the electricity consumed as more electric cars are purchased, Kaufman said.

He suggested Berliner and the council form a working group of building owners to identify potential obstacles and figure out solutions.

“I just feel like we’re not there yet; we don’t have enough information,” Kaufman said.

But he praised Berliner for thinking about upcoming issues and encouraging others to do the same.

“Let’s take our time and figure out how it works and not just impose it,” he said.