Green light for buildings

City explores divisive but more eco-friendly policy

A controversial plan to require energy audits of all new or retrofitted buildings in Sacramento is gaining traction at City Hall. The audits, part of city staff’s new green-building recommendations, were presented to city council this week. Real-estate agents have contested such audits, which essentially are assessments of a building’s energy efficiency, arguing that they might continue to depress the real-estate market.

But with the mayor and Sacramento officials pushing sustainability, city staff has greenlighted a green-building task force’s recommendations to encourage the greening of residential and commercial buildings by targeting power use, heating, cooling and lighting.

“We want to lead by example,” said city planner Erik de Kok, who countered that energy audits actually save building owner’s money over the long term through reducing utility expenses.

Other less-controversial staff recommendations for green buildings, which were developed in 2010 with the help of a green-building task force, include incentives and rewards for making buildings sustainable, staff training, educating the public, updating building codes and an early adoption of more stringent statewide green-building standards.

This January, the state passed its CALGreen program, which requires green-building codes for new construction and retrofitted buildings. Sacramento city staff suggests adopting some of the codes as soon as next year.

Sacramento’s city council is scheduled to consider its options this month. “These are not resolutions but recommendations for further development,” de Kok explained.

Unlike San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles, Sacramento does not have a local energy ordinance that exceeds minimum state standards (although West Sacramento does).

These efforts are part of Sacramento’s Climate Action Plan to reduce the city’s carbon footprint. A draft of the plan is scheduled to go to city council in mid-2011.

As part of this process, a 2005 study determined that 39 percent of Sacramento’s greenhouse-gas emissions comes from buildings, just below the leading 45 percent that comes from vehicles.

De Kok added that economic factors also provided a catalyst for the green-building task force’s suggestions. The fiscal benefits of greener buildings include lower operating costs for owners, a quicker turnaround in the leasing market and harder-to-quantify benefits, such as increased worker productivity in environmentally friendly buildings.

Already, green technology is a rare bright spot in the Sacramento region’s struggling economy. A study by the firm Collaborative Economics found that green-building jobs are the second fastest-growing segment of the regional economy. Additionally, the Sacramento area has more than double the state average of green-building jobs.