Energy policy for Rockford, part 6


Most of the buildings in a mature city were not built with energy efficiency in mind and now impose sizable energy costs on their owners, occupants and the community. The inefficiencies represent a market failure that is widely institutionalized. Existing incentives reward inefficiency and penalize efficiency. New building codes addressing energy efficiency will improve the situation. However, they will fail to capture all the rich opportunities to design healthy, very energy-efficient buildings if the newest and upcoming technologies are not allowed for in their language.

Buildings consume as much as 40 percent of the energy used in a community. Energy consumption of new buildings can be cut up to 50 percent with minimal effects on construction costs. Using the sun to provide building heat and letting diffuse daylight provide building lights are efficient, low-cost strategies.

With the large number of existing structures in Rockford, a program to renovate existing buildings with energy efficiency and renewable energy sources should be implemented. It could be similar to the program in Chicago that retrofits older, structurally sound bungalows as a model program for the community. This project started with a design contest to select the most appropriate renovations. Once finished, the homes can be open for tours to inspire others to make similar renovations.

Habitat for Humanity has begun a new national program of having net-zero energy homes included in their projects. A net-zero energy home is very energy efficient and includes solar electric units on the building roofs. Over the course of a year, the amount of electrical energy used by a home is offset by the amount of electricity produced by the solar electric units. The homes are grid connected and send excess production back to the utility during the day and draw needed electrical service during the evening or at times when sunlight is insufficient to meet home needs. Youth Build and private contractors should be encouraged to do similar projects in Rockford.

Renovating office buildings offers substantial benefits. The best designs require an investment of time to learn new methods and incorporate them into a whole system solution. Rockford would be well served by renovating a building with energy efficiency, renewable energy, and environmental concerns as top priorities. Existing projects can serve as models. For example, in 1993, the National Audubon Society purchased and renovated an office building in New York City to achieve such objectives. They used available energy-efficient, environmentally sound technologies that could pay for themselves in three to five years. A team approach was used, and recycling, energy efficiency, healthy indoor air, lighting efficiency and energy-efficient office equipment were key considerations. The building performed as planned and cut energy consumption by 60 percent. Overall project costs were one-third that of purchasing a new building.

New buildings can be designed to incorporate the latest proven energy-efficient, renewable, environmentally sound practices. The Green Technology Center building in Chicago is built along those lines. Any new public building should be considered as a potential model project. The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation (ICECF) has funded projects to design and build such buildings in Illinois. The new high school in Rochelle, the Cuba Middle-Senior High School, and a new nature center for the McHenry County Defenders were funded by the ICECF. Even without outside funding, the merits of such approaches warrant local financing since the desired features pay for themselves from energy savings within a few years.

From the June 15-21, 2005, issue

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