By SARA QAMAR
Capital News Service
LANSING – From Farmington Hills to Lansing, construction of green-certified state and local buildings is becoming a critical source of long-term budget savings, environmentalists say.
Savings on operating costs could free up money to facilitate economic growth, such as building new businesses, Michigan Environmental Council energy program director David Gard said.
“Traditional energy sources like coal are going to get more expensive, and if you invest in these buildings right now, then you are going to save taxpayers money,” Gard said.
“Generally this is a really important thing for governments at any level to be putting forth as a priority,” he said.
Farmington Hills City Hall has been operating on green technology since last year when it underwent a total revamp of energy and operational facilities.
New systems include rooftop solar panels and an underground geothermal network that keeps the building heated and cooled intermittently.
The $8 million renovation took the city four to five years to finance, said city management assistant Nate Geinzer.
The building is expected to save $30,000 a year on natural gas, with a 20-year payback on operational costs.
Operational savings will be substantial because the new systems mean more work can be done with fewer people, Geinzer said.
Since the solar system was installed at the end of January, the building has created 528 kilowatts of its own energy, enough to run 19 average U.S. households per day.
The city took on the project as an example for residents to consider green technology for their own homes and businesses, Geinzer said.
“The building was designed with public education in mind. We want to showcase sustainable development,” he said.
State facilities are also adopting sustainability and developing new technologies. One example is the cogeneration project, where two airplane engines will power a state building complex, according to Department of Technology, Management and Budget public information director Kurt Weiss.
An $11 million grant will have the new turbine system up and running by January. Annual savings of $1.6 million will provide payback in approximately seven years.
Reduction of nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide because of the system will result in the equivalent of removing 1,715 vehicles from the road per year, Weiss said.
The state has also installed pilot solar panels on the State Police forensics lab and is waiting to evaluate savings at the end of the summer before deciding whether to expand to other buildings, said Weiss.
After completion, such projects can seek a Leadership in Environmental Energy and Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USBGC). The standard at its highest level rates water use, air quality and health, community impact and resource management, and looks at use of sustainable wood and recycling during construction, among other factors.
Grand Rapids rates in the top 50 U.S. cities with LEED-certified buildings.
Grand Valley State University has 11 buildings certified, with more in the process. It recently announced plans to construct a new library that will exceed the LEED energy efficiency standard by 50 percent, USGBC West Michigan Chapter chair Renae Hesselink said.
“That’s what LEED does — we continuously improve the rating. Every two to three years, we’re going to raise the bar because technology has changed to make things more efficient,” she said.
Buildings designed with such certifications in mind generally are less toxic and make for increased efficiency among employees, said Department of Natural Resources and Environment green building representative Maggie Fields.
“A lot of designs encourage use of daylight. Studies indicate that the more daylight in a structure, the more folks tend to have a better sense of connection to community and are productive.
“You don’t feel like you’re living in a dungeon,” Fields said.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.