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Virginia ‘green’ program builds way out of LEED costs

By   /   December 23, 2013  /   News  /   No Comments

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SAVINGS: Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s executive order on conservation stands until July 1, 2014.

By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A green-energy program is fleecing public- and private-sector building projects across the nation, according to the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

Virginia officials say they have a better way to produce environment state savings.

Instead of requiring approval from the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, the state Department of General Services prescribes alternatives to the LEED regimen.

Virginia Energy Conservation and Environmental Standards are a built-in alternative to LEED certification of state-owned buildings.

“VEES provides a method to assure state-owned buildings conserve energy and are environmentally friendly, but it avoids the cost, proprietary national requirements and the time required for LEED certification,” DGS spokesman Susan Pollard told Watchdog.org.

Richard Sliwoski, a public engineer and director of DGS, explained, “VEES was created to provide state owner’s a green building design option that is based on a developing national standard (International Green Construction Code), but focuses on the unique and regional aspects for the design of buildings in Virginia.

“The standard establishes better than the minimum building code standards for energy and environmental conservation, without the influence of national or proprietary interests.”

The VEES option also circumvents a LEED rival, Green Globes.

As stated in Virginia statutes, “Any executive branch agency or institution entering the design phase for the construction of a new building greater than 5,000 gross square feet or the renovation of a building where the cost of the renovation exceeds 50 percent of the value of the building, shall conform to VEES and the building shall be designed, constructed, verified, and operated to comply a public building design, construction and renovation program that meets the requirements of VEES.”

Unlike the national energy-certification programs, VEES builds in flexibility. It allows the director of the Department of General Services to waive recommended design and construction standards “if special circumstances make the construction or renovation to the standards impracticable.”

Pollard could not quantify the taxpayer savings under VEES, but the program is clearly a response to architects and contractors who have bridled under LEED and Green Globes dictates elsewhere.

As Watchdog reported earlier this month, LEED-certified buildings actually have consumed more energy per square foot than conventional buildings in New York.

The U.S. General Services Administration estimates that each federal project pursuing LEED approval costs taxpayers an additional $150,000.

What’s more, LEED has snubbed local building suppliers in jurisdictions where its mandates are enforced.

“Instead of supporting responsibly sourced U.S. timber, LEED compliance forces government builders to look elsewhere — mainly Russia — for lumber,” said David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

“Ninety percent of wood approved for LEED buildings comes from foreign suppliers,” he said.

Portland, Ore.-based Green Globes is chipping away at LEED by offering its own environmental designations and incentives in a somewhat less restrictive program.

Some states have banned LEED in public construction, including Maine, Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama.

Virginia has not excluded either LEED or Green Globes, which has issued 850 building certifications around the country. Rather, state officials believe their VEES option — a third, homegrown set of rules — accommodates builders and local suppliers to generate taxpayer savings.

But Pollard notes that the VEES rules do not apply to agencies outside DGS control.

While the departments of Corrections, Mental Health, state parks and some universities are covered, so-called Tier 3 higher-education institutions are not. Those include the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University and the Virginia Community College System. County and city governments also are free to set their own rules.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, in a 2010 executive order, directed all state agencies under his purview to conserve energy, ranging from fuel and water use to design and construction of buildings.

McDonnell’s action rescinded former Gov. Tim Kaine’s “Greening of State Government” mandate and remains in force until July 1, 2014.

Contact Kenric Ward at kenric@watchdogvirginia.org or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward



Kenric Ward was a former San Antonio-based reporter for Watchdog.org.