New & Notable

May 07, 2007
May/June 2007
A version of this article appears in the May/June 2007 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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Home Buyers Will Pay More for Green Homes

    A survey released recently by Green Builder Media and Imre Communications shows that U.S. home buyers are willing to pay a premium for green-built homes. The study surveyed more than 250 residential builders across the United States, including affordable, market rate, luxury/ semicustom, custom, multifamily, and developer builders.

    More than half of home builders surveyed report that buyers are willing to pay a premium of 11%–25% for green-built homes. The average green home buyer, according to the surveyed builders, is between the ages of 35 and 50, with a college degree and fair understanding of green products.

    Of the home builders surveyed, 96% said they intend to incorporate more green building materials and processes into their business this year. However, only 51% of those same builders currently use green products or practices regularly.

    The top reason builders claim they are adopting greener practices is because it is good for the environment. However, they purchase green materials because home buyers have requested them. Builders said that using green products increases their profits, since they are able to build a differentiated, premium home with a higher sale price. Of those surveyed, 60% currently market some of the homes they build as green homes.

Energy Web Site Launches

    A new Web site that combines online social networking techniques with energy policy venues has recently launched to provide readers with real-time information on pivotal energy issues.

    The Smarter Energy Policy Forum Web site will feature expert contributions ranging from electricity competition to renewable energy sources, presenting visitors with the opportunity to learn more about these issues, offer their ideas, and engage with other writers.

    The Forum features contributions from energy experts, consumer groups, industry representatives, and pundits. Visitors can also contribute to discussions by submitting comments to articles and news content. Each month, the Forum will explore a new major energy topic, such as energy independence, electricity rate reform, or the role of renewables.

    The Forum is managed by public affairs firm Issue Dynamics, Incorporated.

Alternate Fuels at Cal

    A consortium of University of California (UC) Berkeley, University of Illinois, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has been awarded $500 million to develop new biofuels, making the Cal campus the international hub of research on clean energy. The grant was awarded to UC-Berkeley through a British Petroleum (BP) grant. The funding will create the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), which will focus its research initially on developing biotechnology to produce biofuels. The biofuel research will focus on turning plants and plant materials, including corn, field waste, switchgrass and algae, into transportation fuel.

    The research aims to reduce carbon emissions, create jobs and wealth through new industries, and provide an economic boost to rural America through the production of new fuel crops by the use of solar energy and bioengineering.

    The BP grant will further collaborations among UC Berkeley departments, and between the campus and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to explore ideas for producing clean fuels.

Bank Boosts Green Building

    New Resource Bank (NRB) recently announced a program offering financial incentives for green building projects. The bank will provide more money at a lower cost for green building projects, with incentives that include lower interest rates and higher loan-to-value (LTV) ratios, to help developers and investors profit from building green.

    The bank will provide a discount on loans to green leadership projects in the commercial or multi unit residential sectors. Even for a relatively small building, this could mean significant savings over the life of the loan. For a $5 million loan, this could translate to more than $60,000 of savings over ten years, and more over a longer period. This boosts returns for developers or investors in a sector where reducing costs is important to returns.

    The bank will also fund up to 80% LTV ratios for projects that are designed and built to green leadership standards. In addition to construction loans, the higher LTV also applies to green commercial real estate in refinancing or acquisitions.

    To determine whether a project qualifies as being green, the bank will initially rely on criteria established by the U.S. Green Building Council. However, the bank is open to alternative approaches to determine whether projects meet green design standards.

    The bank, which opened in November 2006, has already financed a number of green projects in California. They include a housing development in Martinez that is aiming to achieve USGBC LEED for Homes certification; as well as smart-growth, transit-friendly projects in the urban cores of Berkeley and Oakland and in the Sonoma wine country.

All-Hybrid Car Service

PlanetTran recently launched in San Francisco as the first all-hybrid business and personal car service in the United States. PlanetTran gives customers a convenient, reliable, cost-effective, and environmentally responsible alternative to the traditional taxi, limo, or airport shuttle service, and costs about 30% less than a “black car” limo. PlanetTran also provides in-car WiFi access, allowing travelers to stay connected while en route to their destination. Unlike car share programs, a driver is provided in this service.

Arm Wrestling for Energy Independence

    Governor Bill Ritter (D-Colorado) recently challenged Governor Deval Patrick (D-Massachusetts), to an arm wrestling match for energy independence. The two governors are working to create clean energy jobs in each of their respective states. The “call to arms” was declared during the Apollo Summit, which gathered approximately 200 community leaders to discuss strategies that both promote clean energy solutions and create good jobs in the United States.

    “I don’t just want wind farms. I want companies that build turbines. I want hybrid vehicle companies to consult us on conservation strategies. I want companies that design solar panels. The whole integrated industry can have a place in Massachusetts and in the U.S.,” says Governor Patrick. “If we get this right, the whole world will be our customer.”

    Governor Ritter said that Colorado would also be competing for clean energy jobs.

    “Governor Patrick talks about bringing jobs to Massachusetts. We’re going to arm wrestle you for those jobs because we want those same manufacturing plants,” says Governor Ritter. “We want to be the vertical part of the industry. It’s a good thing to have two governors competing for those jobs, competing in this industry to build out the turbines, competing to have the wind farms located in their state. That’s the right way for us to think about it.”

    Apollo Alliance president Jerome Ringo introduced the governors.

Simplifying LEED

    One of the difficulties with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification has been submitting the complicated paperwork for the process. Now, Adobe and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) have teamed up to simplify the LEED rating system documentation and certification process. With this innovation, green builders can now complete the LEED application process more quickly and more efficiently.

    Builders may now use the Adobe LiveCycle software to aid in their LEED application process. The software uses a cross-platform solution that allows applicants to access and complete forms using Adobe Reader. Building project teams can also download over 400 two-page Adobe PDF forms. Available through USGBC’s Web site (www.usgbc.org), these forms are associated with specific building rating systems for which projects receive LEED certification credits.

    The software also allows project managers who are pursuing certification to complete the Adobe PDF forms offline. Managers may combine the PDF forms with LEED certification documentation, including CAD drawings, contracts, spreadsheets, diagrams, and specifications taken from the LEED site.
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