Cost-Estimating for Renewable Energy Credits (RECs)

The second you explain how the EAc6, Green Power credit works is the second your client starts to think how much it costs. The cost of renewable energy credits (RECs) varies tremendously, so be sure to shop around. Thankfully the US Department of Energy has put together a handy list of REC products for you to choose from, though the list is a bit old (October 2007). Looking at the prices we're paying for a few current projects indicates the general price ranges listed are still more or less accurate.

As you can see from the chart (click on the image for a clearer view), the price can range anywhere from $.005/kWh to $.056/kWh - a huge difference! After talking to Jason Wykoff from RenewableChoice, RealLifeLEED has learned that the difference can be attributed to a variety of factors including whether the company is generating power voluntarily or due to state renewable energy portfolio standards. If you want to get locally generated REC's you can expect to pay more than if you can choose a national vendor. For instance, South Carolina has less than optimal conditions for generating solar and wind, and our local utility's new program costs $.040/kWh, which is much more than the rate our company paid 3Phases for our office's 100% offset last year.

From Cost/kWh to Cost/sf

RealLifeLEED is here to provide you with a handy guide for quoting average costs per square foot of RECs based on the DOE rates indicated and the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey average electrical intensity for various building types that can be found online or in your reference guide. I recommend the online guide because there's more detailed information that is helpful in other ways.

Remember, your actual costs are likely to be lower than indicated here as a LEED building should be using less energy than the "average" buildings. By using the costs for an average building, you're prepping the client for a higher cost than he/she will likely need to pay for your energy efficient building. Benchmark costs for 35% (1 point), 70% (1 point + 1 ID Exemplary Performance point), and 100% (1 point + 1 ID point + good karma and marketing) are provided for each. The costs assume the per square foot costs for two years of credits, so all you have to do is multiply the price listed by the total square footage of the building to determine the cost to comply with the credit - there is no need to multiply by two to show the two years worth of credits. I'm assuming an REC rate of $.010/kWh which should be possible to find, though a source on Wikipedia indicates the median cost is $.020/kWh and can go as high as $.090/kWh:

  • Education (8.9 kWh/sf/year)
    • 35% - $.06/sf
    • 70% - $.13/sf
    • 100% - $.18/sf
  • Food Sales (46.0 kWh/sf/year)
    • 35% - $.32/sf
    • 70% - $.64/sf
    • 100% - $.92/sf
  • Food Service (37.4 kWh/sf/year)
    • 35% - $.26/sf
    • 70% - $.52/sf
    • 100% - $.75/sf
  • Inpatient Health Care (24.0 kWh/sf/year)
    • 35% - $.17/sf
    • 70% - $.34/sf
    • 100% - $.48/sf
  • Outpatient Health Care (11.3 kWh/sf/year)
    • 35% - $.08/sf
    • 70% - $.16/sf
    • 100% - $.23/sf
  • Lodging (11.9 kWh/sf/year)
    • 35% - $.08/sf
    • 70% - $.17/sf
    • 100% - $.24/sf
  • Retail Other Than Mall (9.4 kWh/sf/year)
    • 35% - $.07/sf
    • 70% - $.13/sf
    • 100% - $.19/sf
  • Office (11.5 kWh/sf/year)
    • 35% - $.08/sf
    • 70% - $.16/sf
    • 100% - $.23/sf
  • Public Assembly (5.1 kWh/sf/year)
    • 35% - $.04/sf
    • 70% - $.07/sf
    • 100% - $.10/sf
  • Public Order and Safety (7.9 kWh/sf/year)
    • 35% - $.06/sf
    • 70% - $.11/sf
    • 100% - $.16/sf
  • Religious Worship (3.5 kWh/sf/year)
    • 35% - $.03/sf
    • 70% - $.05/sf
    • 100% - $.07/sf
  • Service (6.3 kWh/sf/year)
    • 35% - $.04/sf
    • 70% - $.09/sf
    • 100% - $.13/sf
  • Warehouse and Storage (3.1 kWh/sf/year)
    • 35% - $.02/sf
    • 70% - $.04/sf
    • 100% - $.06/sf

Use these figures at your own risk! Prices fluctuate, and actual energy use for your project may be substantially different than industry averages. Did I miss something? Let me know via comments!

LEED Reviews: Give Yourself 4-6 Months!

Some of you may be aware that the USGBC recently announced that they will be outsourcing the certification of buildings. RealLifeLEED is here to tell you that this is probably a good thing, given the delays in reviews I've experienced in the past few months. The press releases will imply that this is because the USGBC is striving to meet ANSI/ISO/ETC. standards, but my guess is that the real reason is that it's having a hard time scaling up as all those registered projects are finally coming through the certification process. This is great news from a "shifting the industry towards sustainability" standpoint, but not so great if you have an owner who wants that plaque yesterday! Please understand I post the following not to gripe about LEED, but to make you professionals understand the length of time you need to allot in your schedules for this process, especially if you're splitting design and construction reviews...

On my most recent project submitted for a design review, THERE WAS A DELAY OF 6 WEEKS AND 4 DAYS BEFORE THE REVIEW EVEN BEGAN!

The Long March to Certification

It started early this year, when I submitted a design review mid-January 2008. I soon got an email back indicating that "due to a backlog from the holidays compounded by capacity issues, your project's review has not yet started... this may take up to two weeks." To be clear, this means there's two weeks before the 25-day review periods begins, to which the USGBC asked in a further email for an additional two weeks (35 day review period). Then you get the comments back and have 25 business days to make any requested changes (if any... but there's bound to be a few). Then they go through the final review phase incorporating those comments, and issue your final review points. You can then accept or appeal those points on an individual basis. I just accepted the review, so I can't tell you how long the appeal process takes.

To sum up, here's how that all timed out for me in the first project:

  • RealLifeLEED Submits for Design Review
    • Jan 15 - Zero Hour!
  • Design Review Commences
    • Feb 4 - 2 weeks, 6 days after zero hour
  • Design Review First Comments Received
    • Mar 24 - 9 weeks, 6 days after zero hour (35 business days after review commenced)
  • RealLifeLEED Resubmits Project Incorporating Comments
    • Apr 9 - 12 weeks, 1 day after zero hour
  • Final Design Review Comments Issued
    • May 30 - 19 weeks, 3 days after zero hour!
  • Rinse and Repeat for Construction Review!

So you can now see how it takes time to get through the review process. Given the six week delay on the currently under review, we're looking at a schedule around 23-24 weeks long assuming the rest of the process proceeds as quickly as the January project did.

If you're perfect, you could cut off a significant amount of time by not needing any clarifications and accepting the initial review, but I sure as hell wouldn't guarantee the client that I could make that happen. I've been a supporter in the past of separating the design and construction review, but I'm starting to doubt that that's a wise choice. Please share your thoughts (and delay experiences) in the comments section!

LEED and Green Incentives

The AIA has just released a report on incentives for green buildings See a two page summary of incentives here. I figured this was a good enough time to discuss other incentive databases I've used in the past. Someone needs to pay for this stuff, so why not let it be someone other than you client? To be clear, many of the following resources are not LEED specific, but will feature programs that offer incentives for strategies used to achieve LEED credits or in some cases tax breaks and permitting bonuses for achieving the certification itself.

I doubt that building on the right meets OSHA requirements

A favorite of mine is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) operated by North Carolina Solar Center out of NC State. It offers helpfully detailed info on any particular incentive listed, and is easily searched via a large map of the US. The database also includes information on related rules and regulations that may be found at the state and local level. There are also federal incentives listed. Most of the incentives relate to the installation of on-site renewable energy, but energy-efficiency loans, tak credits and grants are listed as well. There is also info on Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) - the pricing of which is going to be listed on an upcoming post!

What has two thumbs and is going to cover your certification fees??? This guy

The National Association of Industrial and Office Properties released a report similar to the AIA's last year. It's bookended by some survey info that you can more or less skip. Go to pages 21-29 for the good stuff, which includes a list of muncipalities that specifically offer incentives for LEED certification.

Of course we can't forget the USGBC!!! They offer an extensive PDF list of LEED specific incentives and policies that is updated quarterly here, or you can view the searchable version here (recommended). I frankly just found this when I started writing this post (BOO USGBC marketing dept!), but the search options seem quite robust. You can search by location, type of entity, certification level, type of incentive, building type, and more (YAY USGBC database dept!)...

I know I missed somthing, mostly because this post only took about 30 minutes to author. Please share your incentive resources in the comments section!

Visible Transmittance: Rules of Thumb

There comes a time in every EQc8.1 Daylight & Views, Daylight 75% of Spaces calculation where you need to fill in value for the "visible transmittance" (Tvis) of the glazing, normally before you've actually specified the glazing. At least this is true for option one - glazing factor calculation, or option two - daylight simulation model. Of course if you're lazy you can pawn the responsibility off on some schmo who now has to measure the actual light levels after construction (option three - sounds expensive, but I wouldn't really know because I'm the schmo filling out option one all the time)...

EQc8 Supporting Calculator

You can wait until you've actually installed the windows to run the numbers, but unless you have copius amounts of glazing you're probably setting yourself up for an unhappy result. So what is a reasonable value for Tvis?

Your first assumption might be to notice that the "minimum Tvis" values for daylight glazing is 0.7, while the minimums all other glazing is 0.4. To be clear, these are not required minimums! You could potentially have a giant room made of nothing but Kalwall with a Tvis of something like .15 and still get the daylighting point. The "minimums" are really poorly named, as they are more like benchmarks of light transmission performance. The higher visible transmittance you have the better off your daylighting factor becomes.

Another thing that will help is to know that visible transmittance described by LEED as "Tvis" is frequently listed in different ways. I've seen VLT, VT, and other similar configurations. It's listed as a percentage or a decimal with about equal frequency. Pella uses a "VLT%" and lists whole numbers. A "53" rating for their products yields a 0.53 rating for LEED.

The Values

You probably won't see any values much higher than .7, and that's for clear glass. As a general rule, the better the window is as an insulator, the lower the visible transmittance. If I was running through a daylight calculation without having already selected the windows, I would assume the 0.4 or .45 Tvis for ALL windows, as that tends to be the lower end of what's available. A more accurate average would probably be closer to 0.5-0.6, but don't hold me to those numbers! I would stick on the conservative side until I knew otherwise, but then again you will need far greater area of window to make up for a lower Tvis value. The bottom line is that if you assume too low of a Tvis value then you're oversizing the windows, but too high and then you risk losing your points (and good daylighting) if you undersize the glazing. The Efficient Windows Collaborative has a very helpful tool for showing the tradeoff between a lot of light coming into the building and heat gain. Note that the highest Tvis for "EnergyStar" qualified windows in Charleston is 0.55

Efficient Windows Collaborative

Common Manufacturer Tvis Ratings

  • Pella - Put in your zip code and then go to the list that says "Document Types" and select "U-factor, Solar Heat Gain Coefficient..."
  • Anderson - Anderson lists their VT ratings under the "Performance" tab of the basic product description page.
  • If you have a site to add covering Tvis please let us know in the comments section!

LEED CS folks look out!

For some reason the USGBC has left off a valuable tool from the LEED-CS credit pages on LEED-Online for EQc8.1 and EQc8.2! On the LEED-NC projects there is a VERY helpful EQc8 Credit Calculator for you to use that can be found on those pages. The CS and NC requirements are the same for these points with the exception of developing a feasible tenant layout. It's an interactive PDF that adds up all your square footage room by room and then runs the calculations for both EQc8 credits. All you have to do is input the glazing square footage, the Tvis, and where it's located (vision sidelight, daylight sidelight, skylight, etc.) and it will tell you where you stand. The EQc8 Supporting Calculator can be found here!!! The link will direct you to the LEED-NC sample credit templates for Environmental Quality. You will need to extract all of them and toss the rest. The file you want is EQc8-SupportingCalculator.

ID Points: Exemplary Performance Made Easy


Why "next incremental percentage threshold" Doesn't Mean Anything

Exemplary performance points are an often overlooked component of possible IDc1 points. The good news about this is that they often come to you as a bonus points, which is always nice.

If you've taken the time to read your trusty reference guide (I'm reading from NCv2.2 first edition - damn right I'm old school!), the approach for determining exemplary performance reads as follows:

As a general rule of thumb, ID credits for exemplary performance are awarded for doubling the credit requirements and/or achieving the next incremental percentage threshold.

Real Life LEED suggests you throw this advice out the door and just follow whatever it says under the "Exemplary Performance" section of the credit details. Every credit has this section in the reference guide, even if the credit in question doesn't have an exemplary performance option.

I've been struggling to find pictures for these post's lately, so I copped out and defaulted to motivational posters that only barely apply

"Incremental percentage threshold" is an interesting idea but doesn't really pan out to mean anything in practice. When you have 10%, 20%, X%, that X could easily be 30% (increasing by 10% each step) or 40% (doubling each step). For MRc4 Recycled Content it goes 10%, 20%, 30% and then for MRc5 Regional Materials (the very next credit!) it goes 10%, 20%, 40%... Go figure.

Similarly waste management would presumably go 50%, 75%, then 100%, but instead goes to 95% as it would be nearly impossible to achieve a 100% waste diversion rate. Finally, there are the credits where numbers aren't even a component or there's only one number to go by.

Lucky for you you're smart enough to read Real Life LEED, and I'm nice enough to provide you with a condensed list of the exemplary performance options and their thresholds right below! If a credit is not listed below that means there are no exemplary performance options available to you. This is based on LEED-NC 2.2 credits, and is just intended to be an at-a-glance guide you can paste on your cubicle.

HUMBLE PIE ALERT: Changes were made to the list of ID credits on 08/13/08 to reflect additional exemplary performance points found in CIR's and the errata sheets as well as to correct an error for SSc7.2.

  • SSc2, Development Density and Community Connectivity
    • The project itself must have a density of at least double that of the average density within the calculated area OR
    • The average density within an area twice as large as that for the base credit achievement must be at least 120,000 sf/acre. To double the area, use equation 2 but double the property area first. The project must not lower the existing average density of the area.
  • SSc4.1, Alternative Transportation, Public Transportation Access
    • Project located within 1/2 mile of TWO rail lines OR within 1/4 mile of TWO or more stops for FOUR or more bus lines AND
    • At least 200 transit rides per day are available at these stops. Combining bus and rail rides is allowable
  • SSc4.1, 4,2, 4.3, and 4.4, Alternative Transportation
    • Project must include a "comprehensive transportation management plan that demonstrates a quantifiable reduction in personal automobile use"
  • SSc5.1, Site Development: Protect or Restore Habitat
    • Restore or protect 75% of the site area
  • SSc5.2, Site Development: Maximize Open Space
    • Option 1 - Exceed zoning requirement by 50%
    • Option 2 - Provide open space equal to double the building's footprint
    • Option 3 - Provide open space for 40% of the site area
  • SSc7.1, Heat Island Effect: Non-Roof
    • 100% of parking under cover or "a minimum of 100%" of non-roof impervious surfaces meet requirements (high-albedo, open grid, or shaded within 5 years)
  • SSc7.2, Heat Island Effect: Roof
    • 100% of roof (excluding mechanical equipment) is a vegetated green-roof (not just high-albedo)
  • WEc2, Innovative Wastewater Technologies
    • 100% reduction in potable water use for sewage conveyance or 100% treatment of waste
  • WEc3, Water Use Reduction
    • 40% reduction in potable water use for regulated fixtures, or 10% reduction in process or other non-regulated water use
  • EAc1, Optimize Energy Performance
    • New buildings must exceed ASHRAE 90.1-2004 by at least 45.5%
    • Existing buildings must exceed ASHRAE 90.1-2004 by at least 38.5%
  • EAc2, On-Site Renewable Energy
    • Renewable energy generated on-site must be 17.5% or greater of total energy used.
  • EAc6, Green Power
    • Double the amount of REC's purchased either by amount (70% of energy consumed) or time period (4 year contract). NOTE - this exemplary performance option was not listed in my hard-copy 1st edition manual, but is in the second edition.
  • MRc2, Construction Waste Management
    • Divert 95% of waste from the landfill
  • MRc3, Materials Reuse
    • 15% of materials must be reused
  • MRc4, Recycled Content
    • 30% of materials must be recycled
  • MRc5, Regional Materials
    • 40% of materials must be regional
  • MRc6, Rapidly Renewable Materials
    • 10% of materials must be renewable
  • MRc7, Certified Wood
    • 95% of wood must be FSC certified
  • EQc8.1, Daylight and Views, Daylight 75% of Spaces
    • Daylight 95% of spaces
  • EQc8.2, Daylight and Views, Views for 90% of Spaces
    • Eligible for exemplary performance, but there's no real guidance on what you need to do... "Projects will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis."

So there's 20 points you have to work with, though you're only allowed to use a max of four, and those are even fighting for space against your other innovation credits. The new LEED 2009 draft reduces you down to 3 exemplary performance options instead of 4, though overall there are now 6 Innovation and Design points available. They want to encourage actual innovation, so you will be limited to 3 EP points, 1 for having a LEED AP, and 2 others for innovation credits. You could have 5 innovation points and no exemplary performance, or 4 innovation and 1 exemplary, or 2 innovation and 3 exemplary, but not 1 innovation and 4 exemplary... There's more clarification on this issue in the comments below...

Did I miss something? Should I have checked the errata sheets before I posted this? Probably, but then again that's why blogs have comment sections!

LEED Review Comments, Humble Pie, and Lessons Learned

Real Life LEED had the pleasure of receiving final design review comments on one of my projects back late Friday. Overall things went pretty smooth, our consultants did a great job, and the only significant credit to get denied was my own! *GASP*

The most important thing I've learned from this experience is that the review team will not necessarily point out ALL of the problems with you submission the first time around. In my defense, the first error on this particular credit (LEED-CS SSc4.3 - Alternative Transportation, Low Emitting Vehicles) largely stemmed from the fact the the USGBC supplied credit template was wrong. As a result, I committed a small rounding error on my credit template, and listed one less preferred parking spot than I needed to achieve the point.

"No problem!" I sez, and proceeded to add one preferred spot on one floor of our parking deck, re-uploaded that one sheet and the corrected credit template, and happily moved on to other issues. As that was the only thing listed in the comments, I figured we were all set.

"NOT SO!" said the final comments... In addition to the small rounding error, one of our parking deck plans did not have the spaces marked properly (I'm guessing I left a layer off when printing the PDF's), and it turns out we were about 10 spaces short in our supporting documentation, as we were for the first review, though no mention was made about this in the first review comments.

I certainly concede that the mistake was mine. I should have double checked the plans we uploaded and made sure the spaces added up appropriately regardless of the review comments we received. What's frustrating is that we now will have to submit an appeal (to the tune of $500) for a clerical error that was not caught until the final review, but c'est la vie...

LESSON LEARNED: LEED Submitter BEWARE!!! While your review comments point out problems in your documentation, they may not point out ALL of your problems!