DOE’s Building Technologies Program has released a new calculator prepared by NREL that is a shortcut for calculating eligibility and compliance for energy efficiency tax deductions for a variety of the most common commercial building types. As I noted back on tax day (April 17), the requirement that an energy analysis be provided to prove eligibility for the tax credit was probably hindering some owners from claiming the tax credit. Building design professionals that prepared retrofit drawings and specs were probably not necessarily in the mode of preparing full 8760 energy analyses for some of these projects. And those consultants certainly weren’t going to offer that service at no cost. No doubt opportunities were missed to “buy down” the payback period for some energy conservation measures via the tax deduction. And some measures that didn’t have a suitable ROI without the tax deduction were probably not pursued by designers or owners.
A lot of that could be changed due to the introduction of this calculator. The calculator isn’t so much a calculation engine as it is a database of pre-simulated results, similar to the cool roof simulations prepared by ORNL. Owners or designers need only input six fields and choose from four pull down menus to determine whether the project could be eligible for window, lighting or HVAC/HW tax deductions. Once past the eligibility screening, a handful of efficiency inputs are needed for each of the new retrofit systems. From there the calculator determines the applicable tax deduction. It prepares a compliance printout which even shows the deduction eligibility using the three different IRS criteria that are available to choose from for this year. The printout also includes a list of statements for the designer or owner’s representative to sign off on as the document is then ready as backup for the tax deduction claim.
After going through the program for a few minutes, I found some changes were probably going to be needed. For example there were gaps in the available sizes for office buildings, with no calculation data available for office buildings between 8,250 square feet and 26,800 square feet. The calculator could be a valuable resource for owners that undertake efficiency enhancements but may not have an energy analysis available or funds to pay for such an analysis. Design consultants could also offer documentation from this calculator either as part of the base design services or at a very nominal cost in comparison to a full energy analysis.
Recently GSA announced the results of an evaluation of various green building rating systems as to how well they align with federal High Performance and Sustainable Buildings (HPSB) criteria. The study was prepared by staff at Pacific Northwest National Lab and found that the Green Globes program matched up best with the federal HPSB criteria. A couple interesting items from the report:
Total Certified Buildings: Green Globes – 176, LEED – 10,000
Building Professionals: Green Globes – 173, LEED – 162,456
Under a section titled Usability, various program costs were noted. However those would be the costs incurred by the owner, not those costs for the building professional.
LEED accreditation through the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) is fairly inexpensive and training is widely available. Full credentialing is now a two-stage process. Fees for the first “associate” credential include: $50 application, $200 exam fee and $50 biennial renewal. The second “full” credentialing exam costs: $100 application, $450 (combined exam), and $50 renewal. So full certification may cost $800, with recertification an extra $50 every two years.
Green Globes personnel certifications are through the Green Building Initiative (GBI). Green Globes Professional (GGP) credential fees for initial training, exam and first recertification are $1000. Later training and recertifications are $500 every two years. The application fee if $125. Fees for the Green Globes Assessor (GGA) are higher, with an application fee of$250, and initial training/exam/ and first recertification costing $1500.
The public release of the evaluation comes during the fourth and final public review period for LEED 2012. Presumably it is too late to suddenly modify the LEED 2012 program to better match the federal HPSB criteria. By far the biggest consumer of LEED buildings has been the federal government. With such a large number of accredited professionals available to offer LEED services, and so few available for Green Globes projects, can the government suddenly require a system that may not have the capacity to handle a sudden influx of projects ? Because of this through-put issue, it is doubtful there will be any immediate change in green building rating systems for federal green building projects. Instead this study may result in a re-tuning of the LEED system during its next review cycle for it to better match the federal criteria. So there may be no need for LEED practitioners to hurry out and pay for training and take yet another credentialing exam in order to get a Green Globes credential.