by Alex Pennock
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has recently opened a fourth comment period for many of its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building standards. The review process has been long and involved, but I’m extremely pleased to see that the language for the updated Green Power credit is no longer up for comment and seems settled, as it contains a number of significant changes that will amplify the positive impact of LEED certified buildings.
Under current Green Power criteria offered in certain LEED standards, buildings can earn points for purchasing green power for 35% of their electricity for two years. The slated changes for the LEED 2012 standard will recognize green power for up to 100% of electricity use for a minimum of 5 years for some LEED standards. This could result in an increase of more than 600% for green power use in a LEED certified building, resulting in greater and longer-term support of renewable electricity generation, and even more CO2 and other pollution being avoided, since that amount won’t be drawn from traditional sources of electricity.
Under the new green power credit, a 20,000 square foot certified building could avoid roughly 850 more tons of CO2 compared to purchasing 35% green power for only two years. For reference, this is the amount of CO2 emissions from burning almost 1,800 barrels of oil. Renewable energy does more than just preventing carbon from getting into the atmosphere, however; renewables avoid emissions of mercury, particulates and other pollutants, help create and maintain domestic jobs, and heighten energy security.
LEED reference guides point out that buildings account for 73% of electricity use in the U.S. LEED standards have long been adopted voluntarily by developers, architects, and others who want to reduce the environmental impact of buildings, and these standards are increasingly being required by city codes and highlighted in government environmental guidelines. With LEED uptake expanding rapidly, these changes to the green power credit will go a long way toward making sure an ever-more sizeable chunk of that 73% comes from domestic renewable sources instead of fuels linked to mountaintop removal, foreign conflict, human health deterioration, and a host of other impacts that reveal the true cost of fossil fuels.
Alex Pennock is manager of Green-e Energy, and if he were a building he’d earn one (1) point for riding a bicycle to work every day. He can be contacted at alex [at] resource-solutions.org.
 I am using the EPA green power calculator available at http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-resources/calculator.html. To calculate electricity usage per square foot, I am using the most recent (2003) CBECS data showing an average office building uses 17.3 kWh per square foot and assuming that a 2011 GSA sampling of LEED certified buildings showing that they use an average of 25% less energy holds true for the electricity portion of energy, to get 13 kWh per square foot. http://www.eia.gov/consumption/commercial/ and http://www.gsa.gov/graphics/pbs/Green_Building_Performance.pdf