HB2496 schools; energy and water savings (Mason, J. Burns, Aboud, et al.), having passed the House 56-3, now awaits action by the Senate Committee of the Whole. Every citizen concerned with the environment and energy independence should encourage its passage. The bill creates an incentive for installing energy and water saving systems and techniques.
Schools will be allowed to borrow the estimated cost savings from more efficient systems over a ten year horizon to invest in the new energy or water saving measures that make those savings possible. Financing from utility companies and system vendors will pay for the water and energy saving systems, with performance guarantees that ensure taxpayers don't pay if the vendors' estimates are inaccurate. This mechanism provides an opportunity for schools to invest in cost-effective measures that save money, energy, and water with no additional expenditures by tax-payers.
The bill is a creative financing mechanism for existing schools that could save the state millions over the next decade without costing taxpayers a dime. The next measure that should be instituted in this area is life-cycle costing of new construction of schools and other public buildings. Instead of measuring the cost of a building by looking only at the cost of construction in isolation, public projects should be costed to include a reasonable period of operational costs.
For a public building, that period of operation is at least 20 years, and often considerably longer. But even at a 20 year operational horizon, the cost effectiveness of environmentally-friendly high energy and water efficient system become economically compelling. Structures using LEED guidelines for energy use and sustainability outperform less expensive (and less efficient) designs due to greatly lowered operational costs.
By folding in at least a portion of the building's total operational costs into the design parameters, state and local governments can achieve significant long-term cost efficiencies that benefit taxpayers. A very good in-depth discussion of the cost efficiencies of green buildings is provided by the report of California's Sustainable Building Task Force (PDF).
In 2005, our Governor mandated by executive order (PDF) that all new buildings within the executive department be constructed using at minimum Silver LEED standards. It is time for the rest of our constitutional branches and local governments to follow suit in seizing the long-term cost savings such LEED rating provides.
It is time to recognize that energy and water efficiency and sustainable development make better economic sense than ignoring future operational costs when planning for a new public structure. In fact, many high-efficiency features make economic sense over a time horizon of as little as 4-5 years, making them cost effective even for residential homes, whose average term of occupancy is about that length.
Sustainable building is cost effective; the challenge is now to get our public and financial institutions to recognize and act on that fact. Heck, it makes so much economic sense that even WalMart is now building green. If a bottom-line obsessed company like WalMart can see the befits, why can't our governments?