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City made great gains in green building, energy programs in 2007

Monday, January 7, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

The Resource Management Commission heard of some healthy gains in green building and water management during its final meeting of 2007, most of which came from revisions to code and impending development downtown and at the master-planned Mueller development.


On the green building end, Richard Morgan of Austin Energy predicted an impending increase in green building project completion that was due primarily due to the large number of condominium projects that are moving through the system.


In 2007 the number of green building projects was 19, up from seven. Morgan credits the Mueller project, in part, because every project on the Mueller site must be energy efficient, according to the master development agreement the city signed with Catellus Austin LLC. That includes both commercial and single-family properties on the site. A one-star green building rating, the minimum often suggested by the city, is a standard that is roughly 15 percent better than the current city code ratings, Morgan said.


Beyond Mueller, the city also is dealing with a number of significant downtown condominium projects that are moving through the city pipeline. Right now, 15 million square feet of commercial space is moving through the city’s permitting process, Morgan said.


“It’s like the anaconda that swallowed the pig,” said Morgan, describing the impact of those projects. “We expect a big impact from commercial next year (2008), up to 9 mWh in savings from the various projects.”


That means the gains will spike this year, but it is only temporary, Morgan said. The biggest gains, long term, will be the changes to the city energy code, which will encourage greater energy efficiency in both single-family and multi-family projects.


The city’s new energy code, which was passed in October, meets 2006 international standards. The city’s goal is to have 2009 standards in place by early 2010. Each update in standards comes with an increased commitment to energy efficiency, Morgan said.


Overall, the city came close to meeting its green building goal in single-development and exceeded its goal in multi-family development. Green-building savings in 2007 were calculated to be 16.5 tons of carbon dioxide, 10.4 tons of sulphur dioxide and 1.15 tons of NOx pollutants. That’s the equivalent of taking 3,625 cars off the road in Austin, due directly to the city’s green-building efforts.


On the water conservation side, the city saw some good response to its water rebate program, especially the $200 washing machine rebate over the summer, said Dan Strub of Austin Water Utility. The Resource Management Commission also had an extended discussion of the high-efficiency toilet rebates being offered by the city for those who install the highest-efficiency toilets.


Some of the significant single-project gains come out of the University of Texas, which has committed to higher efficiency standards on its conference center, which currently is under construction on Martin Luther King Boulevard near Congress Avenue.


The biggest efficiency gains the city has made in recent years have come out of negotiations with major employers. For instance, deals with AMD in 1999 and Freescale in 2006 significantly reduced the water needed by the chip makings.


The biggest gains in water conservation last year came out of the Water Conservation Taskforce. Suggestions from the task force included an easier twice-a-week watering schedule that would provide greater consistency for enforcement, said Pederson.

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