Greening of California’s State Buildings Hits Its Stride

It’s been nearly five years since Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. issued his 2012 landmark executive order for a 20 percent reduction (versus a 2003 baseline) on the grid energy use of all state departments, agencies, and other state entities by 2018.

The same directive, which seeks to green California’s state buildings while at the same time saving taxpayer dollars, also set a 20 percent reduction (versus a 2010 baseline) of state water usage by 2020. This water-cut target was accelerated to 25 percent by end-2015 under the first-ever mandatory water reduction subsequently adopted statewide in California.

Some early gains

Gladly, we can already see some good progress on these initiatives geared at helping address climate change. On water use, the most recent statistics indicate that state departments have already hit the 20 percent reduction target. More intensified water conservation measures are currently underway so as to meet the levels set in the statewide mandatory cuts in water use.

Notably, the departments’ water savings have been achieved by cutting on outdoor irrigation and removing ornamental turf, as well as through upgrades of plumbing fixtures.

Significant gains were likewise reported recently on California’s drive to reduce energy consumption in state buildings. The most recent available data point to a double-digit reduction in energy use from these buildings’ 2003 total consumption of almost 12 billion kBTU (thousand British Thermal Units) of combined electricity and natural gas usage. For some perspective, this energy utilization is equivalent to the energy consumption of 175,000 California homes.

The energy savings that state buildings have so far achieved were partly the result of improved energy utilization through retrofits of lighting and mechanical systems. Credit also goes to initiatives on the use of onsite renewable energy and conservation measures.

The rise of zero net energy buildings

Much could still be expected from Gov. Brown’s 2012 executive order on dramatic energy use reductions for California’s state buildings. His directive not only compels state departments to offset their energy usage as they renovate their facilities, but it also calls for all-new state buildings to be designed so that they can offset their energy use entirely.

The governor’s executive branch has direct control of about 8,000 state buildings. Under Brown’s directive, departments have to plan only “zero net energy” renovations starting in 2025. Half of the renovations beginning in 2020 should likewise represent zero net energy projects.

Features typically included in the zero net energy projects are those limiting energy use plus other measures that generate power, such as installation of solar panels. The new office of the DMV in Fresno has the distinction of being California’s first zero net energy building since the Brown energy-cut directive.

So far, nine zero net energy state projects have been completed since the issuance of Brown’s executive order. Another 22 similar developments are underway.

The Brown administration has maintained that the zero net energy designs will generate savings over time. In a 2015 presentation of the Department of General Services, it was estimated that the state could achieve about $200 million in savings with the implementation of the new designs.

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