Seattle prides itself on its forward green thinking. However, it lags terribly behind on forward green doing. Why is that? There may be other factors endemic to the banking system in the US and the financing of projects, but here are two specifically-Seattle issues:
- The City's most valuable incentive to developers of deep green buildings, the additional height bonus, is at odds with the wishes of many immediate neighbors of these buildings. Thus, each new deep green building is greeted with opposition, instead of excitement and encouragement.
- Because of this opposition, the City sets up barriers to the granting of these incentives instead of providing technical or financial assistance to design teams and developers to help them achieve their deep green goals and grant them the incentives.
Those barriers add time and cost to projects that are pushing the envelope, making it less likely that design teams and owners will pursue the construction of innovative buildings.
City of Seattle rightly grants an incentive for something we desperately want and need, deep green buildings. However, in classic Seattle passive-aggressive style, while the incentive is saying "Yes, please go ahead and do this! We want you to do this!" the path to achieving that incentive is filled with pain and trouble. Why would the City choose to offer a height bonus instead of a financial award? Because height bonuses are free. It doesn't cost the City anything to allow a developer to increase the height of their building. Once the building is built though, the increased property taxes from the larger building will help to pay for other needed city services.
Councilmember Nick Licata's Resolution 31400 to establish a Sustainable Building Advisory Board illustrates my second point. On his blog, Councilmember Nicata says:
In response to concerns raised over the Skanska project Stone 34">] by the surrounding community, the Bullitt Foundation, and Living Building Challenge representatives, I have introduced Resolution 31400. It calls on the City to provide updates and enhancements to its Living Building Challenge and Seattle Deep Green pilot programs. Resolution 31400 also requests the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) to form a standing Green Building Advisory Board to advise the City on sustainable building practices; to screen proposals for eligibility; and to assist in developing new or updated sustainable building programs.
In other words, according to Councilmember Licata's expressed intentions, the Sustainable Building Advisory Board will be a watchdog group of green building professionals and community representatives charged with making sure no unworthy buildings are granted the height bonus, arousing the ire of neighbors. The Sustainable Building Advisory Board will be punative in function rather than helpful and educational.
At the meeting of the Planning, Land Use and Sustainbility Committee for Resolution 31400 on May 8th, Diane Sugamura, head of Seattle's Department of Planning and Design (DPD) said that "a handful" of projects are "in the pipeline" that would be affected by the Resolution over the next two years--that is, three or four. Three or four buildings out of how many that will be built in the City of Seattle over the same period?
This is a program that is not working.
This is in stark contrast to Brussells, Belgium, where their extraordinarily successful Exemplary Buildings program has, since 2007, facilitated the construction of 117 ultra-low-energy green buildings--totalling nearly 3 million square feet. Over twenty-three buildings per year! Nearly half of those buildings are Passivhaus. There, winners of the three competitions held since the inception of the program have been given cash awards of $12 per square foot, technical assistance in achieving their goals, and their projects have been massively publicized. (Including a nice book.) Ninety per cent of the financial award goes to the owner of the building, and ten per cent goes to the design team. (See my earlier blog post on the head of the Exemplary Buildings program Joke Dockx's visit to Seattle for more.) For the Bullitt Center, the award would have been about $600,000. As a result of the success of this program, the government of the Brussells region has mandated that as of January 1, 2015, Passivhaus will be required for all office, institutional and residential buildings, both single- and multi-family built in the 62-square-mile region.
As of this writing in Seattle we have two Living Building Challenge Buildings (out a total of four in the entire United States) and one Seattle Deep Green building under construction. Seattle does have a fair number of LEED-certified buildings, but at 85% of current code, the energy-conserving bar is set very low for City-required-for City-projects-over-5,000-SF LEED Silver, and four out of five of those LEED Silver buildings will have to be renovated by 2050 if we are going to achieve carbon neutrality. (Yes, virtually all. Stockholm Environment Institute's Carbon Neutral Plan for Seattle postulated that 80% of Seattle's building stock would have to be renovated to something like Passivhaus standard-- that is, to 10% of current code--by 2050.)
How can we encourage projects that meet that carbon neutral goal NOW; that do not have to be expensively renovated within the next 37 years? I suggest a new program similar to Brussells' Exemplary Buildings program, combined with Passivhaus.
On April 29th of 2009, over on Grist, David Roberts posted an article on Energy Efficiency and Sex. Have a look....
In the article Roberts laments the technical, bloodless mantra of efficiency as it is applied to energy and resources, so divorced from the passion and poetry of life. How can "efficiency" ever be sexy? EU parliamentarian Claude Termes suggested "resource intelligence" as an alternative. I like this. From now on, we will speak of "intelligence" rather than "efficiency" in our work.
Those of you who know me (and those who have looked at our family's green roof garage
or come across the book Manspace
) know that I am an ardent advocate of motorcycles as transportation. I recently came across a UK study that validates my intuition with respect to motorcycles and climate change.
An except:In so far as climate change is a consideration, motorcycles have a clearadvantage over passenger cars. The maximum emissions of CO2 from motorcyclesrecorded in recent tests, fall below the average values recorded from thepassenger car fleet. This is true for petrol engined passenger cars thatdominate the UK fleet and also the diesel fleet that exists on the basis ofits fuel economy. If one considers lower capacity motorcycles which dominatethe urban/commuter sector, their CO2 emissions tend to be less than halfthose of the average passenger car. When considering gaseous pollutants it is apparent that the nature of thetest cycle used during emissions measurement can have a significantinfluence on the results obtained. For the purposes of comparison this paperhas considered the emission of two pollutants (NOx and HC) measured over“real world” test cycles that have recently been developed for bothpassenger carsand for motorcycles. Comparison of these results has been put in context byreference to the emission limits set out in legislation for passenger cars. Lower legislated limits for passenger cars would suggest that theenvironmental performance of passenger cars would be better thanmotorcycles. The available data suggests that this is the case, although themargin of difference is not as great as the difference in legislated limitvalues would suggest. Average emissions of NOx and HC from motorcycles isapproximately one Euro standard behind that from petrol fuelled passengercars. However, the NOx performance from motorcycles is generally better thanthat from diesel fuelled cars that are increasing in popularity because oftheir fuel efficiency. Future emission standards have been agreed for motorcycles and these arealmost certain to cause the use of carburettors (a major cause of high HCemission) to cease. It is also expected that catalyst technology will be farmore widespread in the motorcycle fleet providing further improved emissioncontrol. In addition, the complexity of the test cycle over which futuremotorcycle emissions will be measured should reduce the possibility fordisparity between regulated and “real world” emissions.
Read a detailed abstract of the study here: <http://www.bmf.co.uk/briefing/Bikes-Go-Greener.html
A massive windstorm swept through Western Washington early last Friday morning, knocking down power lines and leaving 700,000 of Puget Sound Energy's one million customers without electricity. That's right: Seventy per cent
(70%) of the PSE grid was knocked out. In Seattle, City Light's grid lost power for 175,000 customers. (I'm assuming customers means "accounts," or households.) A week later, many people are still without power, as Seattle City Light and Puget Sound Energy crews scramble to restore service. Centralization of Utilities and National Security
The centralized electrical grid is subject to disruption by storms, floods, earthquakes and, dare we say it, terrorist activity. Our centralized water supply is similarly vulnerable. (As is waste treatment...although the effects of disruption of our sewage treatment system might be more unpleasant than immediately dangerous....) I vividly remember Jim Bell, a ecological designer from San Diego, doing a slide presentation in 1992 or so for the then-fledgling EcoBuilding Guild. He first put up on the screen a map of San Diego, showing the six or seven aqueducts that supply the city coming in east to west down from the mountains. Then he added the five or six main electrical trunk lines, following similar east to west lines. And then a final slide that showed known earthquake fault lines, such as the San Andreas, all running NORTH and SOUTH, crossing every single water and power line. Seeing that convinced me on the spot that decentralized utilities was a concept that could garner support on both sides of the political fence.First Easy Baby Steps
There are things that can be done to ameliorate the effects of outages. In our projects, even where clients have not "gone the extra mile" and installed off-the-grid electrical systems, just having a well-insulated house with a supplemental heat source that can operate without electricity (like a gas or wood fireplace), and appropriate circuitry for easily plugging in a gasoline-powered generator can make the difference between inconvenience and major disruption. Here's what one of my clients, for whom we recently designed a new house in an outlying area, had to say:We don't have power back yet, but we're keeping warm. . . . Right now [our daughter's] room is a balmy 69F, our bedroom is 65, and the rest of the house is 57 and warming. . . . Once it's warm, the house retains heat AMAZINGLY well, but I'm sure that's what you and [the contractor] had planned :-). The fireplace warms the living room nicely and extends a bit into the dining room but we're definitely at some point going to want to do the work that we "postponed"--to get it hooked up to some sort of system that can distribute its heat more effectively. One of those "we need to stay within budget cuts that we made that I don't think we would have done differently but would definitely have been a "nice to have" right now." Still, without it, we're faring pretty well. Because of the generator outlets you put in we're able to keep the computer on in the kitchen so we can stay "connected", power the TV, some basic lighting in each room as needed, keep the phones charged, and power [our daughter']s entire room which was a GREAT decision - it means very very little changes for her and with the heat, makes for easy evening diaper changes and book reading, and she'll sleep soundly in her own room tonight as if there was no power outage at all.
Imagine however if you will, another scenario....in which power is generated, water is supplied, and waste is processed on a neighborhood or household scale. Stay tuned for Part II.