Leading by Example

Aug. 1, 2007

The state of California takes its environmental stewardship seriously and actively addresses climate change

Although many celebrities and politicians appear to be jumping on the global-warming bandwagon, the state of California continues to move forward - quietly, but aggressively - as a long-standing environmental steward. Under the tutelage of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the administration has gone well beyond merely reaching out to industry and individuals statewide (as well as nationally and globally) for their voluntary involvement in reducing emissions; on Sept. 27, 2006, the governor signed Assembly Bill 32 (the Global Warming Solutions Act), putting proposed early-action greenhouse-gas-reduction targets into law.

Buildings recently spoke with Roy McBrayer, deputy to the state architect in the Department of General Services and a key member of the governor's Green Action Team, about the administration's leadership role as an innovator of energy and environmental initiatives, including the topic of climate change.

Tell us more about the state's action plan with respect to global warming and other environmental initiatives.
As far as Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32) compliance in California and the Global Warming Solutions Act, the governor's Green Building Initiative is identified as a primary strategy for meeting the goals that have been laid out by AB 32. In terms of the operative factors, energy efficiency comes up as the most concrete and tangible thing to be done to reduce greenhouse gases. It's the most readily implemented and lowest-cost way of bridging the gap between supply and demand.When we talk with state agencies about what they can do to green their operations - and they want to be green - we explain that there's almost three levels of activities.

First, there are all the things you would do to a building, which includes knowing how much energy you use and how much CO2 you're emitting (benchmarking); the next part is the retro-commissioning or tuning up of the building (getting the existing building, as built, running optimally); and, from there, identifying the most cost-effective upgrades that would improve the innate performance of the building. We have been using LEED (the green rating system from the U.S. Green Building Council), but LEED is not the only performance-measurement program out there. The important thing is to obtain some level of balanced energy and environmental performance for the basic building.

The next level is the operations within the building. It's important to look beyond the obvious plug loads; for instance, computer systems have become a very significant component of the energy load of buildings, but that's typically not addressed as part of a building. Beyond that, it's important to look into the business and discretionary decisions being made about environmentally friendly purchases.

The third level is greening the program. A good example of that would be our procurement operation delivering services to state agencies - particularly, how they are embedding energy and environmental performance into the specifications as they award master contracts.

So, a large part of the state's approach to climate change and environmental initiatives is to serve as a role model?Yes. Because of the way AB 32 is written, most of the requirements are put on the California Air Resources Board [California's Legislature established the CARB in 1967 to attain and maintain healthy air quality, conduct research into the causes of and solutions to air pollution, and systematically attack the serious problem caused by motor vehicles; its 11 members are appointed by the governor], and a lot of that is regulatory action, which takes time to implement. However, we (the governor's office and the California Environmental Protection Agency [Cal/EPA]) were interested in seeing what we could do right now, so each of the participating state agencies identified the things we were working on or would be working on soon that would have the hope of delivering some results by 2010 - the first milestone in the climate action plan.

There continues to be quite a lot of emphasis from the governor's office on maintaining the course here and making sure the agencies follow through with the early actions they have identified. The way the governor's green building order was written - if you read between the lines - is that he wants the state to lead by example. Although people like myself might say that we're not moving fast enough or doing as much as we could do, there is a growing awareness within state government that the governor is serious. This is not typical rhetoric - we are expected to do this and there will be a day of reckoning. Whether anybody buys into the idea that commercial real estate is going to take the leadership example of the state or not is a subject for heated debate. But, one thing for sure is that, if we do these things - for instance, if we require new build-to-suit leases to be built to LEED standards - it sends a market signal. We are being held by the administration to make sure our program is real - that there's some real grit behind the rhetoric and that we're actually doing it.

How have the state's utilities become involved in global-warming issues and emissions reductions?The four investor-owned utilities in California each have programs that have been funded by the Public Goods Charge (PGC) that's assessed to ratepayers. More than $2 billion over 3 years has been authorized by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for approximately 200 discrete programs - everything from rebates on washing machines to incentive programs for energy-efficiency projects and self-generation incentive programs. A lot of the emphasis has been placed on energy efficiency and renewable portfolio standards.

The municipal utilities are also in the game, although they don't come under the direct regulation of the PUC. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), for example, serves Sacramento and most of the state government and has programs that, in most respects, mirror what is being done through the PUC-funded programs - they're offering audit programs, rebate programs, and incentive programs. We're working right now with SMUD, for instance, on some innovative ideas to encourage the use of solar and fuel cells.

What is really nice is that there's a kind of convergence occurring among the utilities around these strategies. I don't know that we've ever had that kind of collaboration before in California, and it represents a very big and significant effort when you look at the amount of money that's put into it: about a 31-percent increase in the funding level for energy efficiency this last (3-year program) cycle. The next program cycle begins in 2009 and runs through 2011 - and the anticipation is that it will carry on from what the existing cycle has accomplished, and with comparable levels of funding.

What advice do you have for the commercial and institutional buildings industry in terms of getting involved in climate-change efforts?Many of the large industry players are already onboard, and I'm seeing [activity] from sectors that, 2 years ago, were polarized against it. They had pretty much made up their minds that it was way too expensive - that there would be no way they could ever recover their investment. It's amazing to me; I would love to have the time to sit down, take it apart, and gain an understanding for what the cause-and-effect relationships have been that have triggered it, because it surprised me. There I was - in the trenches, shoveling coal - trying to get some traction on this program and getting discouraged because I just didn't think it was catching on. All of a sudden - almost before I knew it - it was picking up its own momentum.

There are some contributing factors, of course. Technology is in a different place than it was 5 years ago, even in terms of what you can do with variable speed drive technology and the advancements and improved reliability in building automation. There's [also] a generational influence in effect. Folks in their 20s and 30s have stepped up; certainly, they've been more environmentally aware their whole lives. Then, most people, from a guttural level, recognize that we can't continue to deplete our resources like we have in the past.

Ultimately, it starts with taking the first step and really paying attention to what you're doing. You don't have to necessarily do everything, but isn't it the socially responsible thing to do something - to be part of the solution? 

Linda K. Monroe ([email protected]) is editorial director at Buildings magazine.

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