Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Access to Quality Transit credit? Prove it!

By Adrian Charest, PE, LEED AP BD+C

RSMeans from The Gordian Group

Access to Quality Transit credit?  Prove it!

The intent behind USGBC’s Access to Quality Transit is to encourage development in areas that are connected by public transportation systems to reduce car usage…but do people want to live in areas that are highly connected to public transportation?  In other words, could the effect that multiple modes of transportation have on where people live be displayed?  Using a geographic information system and publicly available data, this article explores these questions and gets to, “Yes”.

The public transportation network in Boston is expansive and goes far beyond the city limits.  The system is comprised of four modes of transportation; subways, commuter rails, buses, and ferries, each with entry points consisting of stations, stops, or docks.  The systems operate independently from one another, but are complementary in that together they provide greater access to larger areas of the City.

The area around the entry points needs to be determined in order to develop answers to the posed questions.  Working with each system separately, a 1-mile buffer zone was created and merged together around each of the entry points for each respective system creating images as displayed in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1
                    Subway                                                                                                                  Commuter Rail  

Bus                                                                                                                             Ferry

Overlaying these buffers with the Year 2000 U.S. Census Data provides an understanding of each system’s influence on attracting people.  Using the buffers’ areas and the population captured by them enabled calculation of the population density around the entry points.  These results can be seen in Table 1 below which is ranked from greatest population density to least.

Table 1
Sq. Miles
Pop / mi2
Commuter Rail

However, what about the effects of multiple modes of transportation?  Overlaying the individual mode-buffers described above creates areas where there are 1-, 2-, 3-, and 4-modes of transportation available.  For instance, areas where there is only a subway or commuter rail station, a bus stop, or a ferry dock is ranked as 1-mode, not distinguishing between the mode types.  Areas where all four mode buffers overlapped are ranked as 4-mode, and any combination of 2 and 3 different mode types are ranked as 2- and 3-mode areas.  A graphic displaying the results of these combinations can be seen if Figure 2 below.

Figure 2

Overlaying these new buffers with the census data shows the impact that multiple modes of transportation have on where people want to live.  These outputs can be seen in Table 2 below where the influence can be clearly seen.; as the number of available modes increase, so does the number of people living in those areas.

Table 2
Sq. Miles
Pop / mi2
1 Mode
2 Mode
3 Mode
4 Mode

So what does this all mean?  That the Access to Quality Transit credit is in the right direction, people want to live in areas that are highly connected to public transportation systems.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Zero Net Energy Buildings Re-Cap

So what are they again?

Zero Net Energy Buildings (or ZNEBs) are most commonly defined as buildings that produce as much energy as they consume on an annual basis (this energy must be renewable).

However, there are actually a few different ways for buildings to achieve Zero-Net Energy status: the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) offers four definitions of ZNEBs in their report titled Getting to Net Zero. The first builds on the common definition (above), but is specifically tied to the project site: a building that produces at least as much renewable energy as it uses in a year, when accounted for at the site. The second version looks at the source of the energy, so a building that produces, and/or purchases as much renewable energy as it uses in a year. The third definition focuses on energy costs, which means the amount of money the utility pays the building owner for exporting renewable energy to the grid is at least equal to the amount the owner pays the utility for the energy services it uses over the year. The fourth way of defining ZNEBs concentrates on emissions; so the building must produce and/or purchase enough emissions-free renewable energy to offset emissions from all energy used in the building annually.

While these definitions may seem convoluted, they are in direct response to the complex environment of regulations, market forces, and financial incentives that affect different building owners and building types in a variety of ways. The variation between the definitions is an attempt to accommodate the diversity of our built environment so that all parties may participate in the ZNEB market.

These definitions also come into play when you consider recent planning initiatives for Eco-Districts and Zero Net Energy Neighborhoods. Again, there’s more than one way to get to Net-Zero and it won’t play out the same way in every building or every community. While ZNEBs are technically ‘just buildings’ they are actually part of a broader toolkit for transforming the built environment. It’s up to us to assess the potential ways that ZNEBs might be integrated into broader planning initiatives in order to achieve the maximum impact for our communities and the environment.

Investing in ZNEBs not only ensures positive environmental impact, but also offers potential for significant cost savings through more efficient and holistic design strategies, as well as insulation from swings in non-renewable energy costs.

How do we get more of them?

ZNEBs are becoming more ubiquitous, and Massachusetts has already made significant headway in supporting innovation in the market. The Department of Energy and Resources (DOER) announced 25 projects selected for the Pathways to Zero Net Energy Program, which is a $3.5 million initiative designed to facilitate the transition to the next generation of high-performance buildings. 

The next step is to pass Senate Bill 1578: An Act Promoting Zero Net Energy Buildings in the Commonwealth, which is based on recommendations from Governor Patrick’s Zero Net Energy Buildings Task Force, and was sponsored in the 2013-2014 session by Senator Jamie Eldridge. The bill was discharged to the committee on Senate Ethics and Rules in March of 2014, but no further action was taken. This year Senator Eldridge is sponsoring the bill again, under petition of Representatives Chris Walsh, Denise Provost, Marjorie Decker and David Rogers.

The bill seeks to change line “o” of the Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 143, Section 94, and add a line “s” after line “r” in the same section. You can read the specifics available through the advocacy resources section of the USGBC MA website, but there are several key changes to take note of.

In line “o” the bill seeks to establish a Zero Net Energy Building standard for new residential and commercial construction by 2020 and 2030 respectively. Also, the bill would implement regulations as part of the state building code, along with more stringent energy efficiency provisions requiring incremental improvements, starting with a 30% increase in efficiency over the International Energy Conservation Code.

In line “s” the bill calls for public input and consultation with the DOER to establish separate definitions for Zero Net Energy Buildings in both residential and commercial sectors by 2017 and 2018 respectively. The bill calls for the definitions to take into account zero net energy building definitions established in other places, as well as the current and anticipated climate of Massachusetts.

In support of the bill, and in anticipation of the public process that will unfold to produce appropriate definitions for ZNEBs in Massachusetts, the USGBC MA chapter will provide further blog posts on ZNEB practices, policies and projects in other states as well as right here in Massachusetts.

We also want to invite you to the next Green Breakfast, Thursday, March 19th at our Headquarters in downtown Boston. In addition to providing additional information on ZNEBs, we will also have presentations on Property Assessed Clean Energy financing (PACE) and Net-Metering.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Re-Post: The All-Glass Building - Is Energy Efficiency Possible

Re-Post: The All-Glass Building - Is Energy Efficiency Possible

By Andrea Love, Director of Building Science at Payette, Chapter Board Member

One of our wonderful volunteers wrote extensively about glass facade buildings and the challenge these present to proponents of energy efficiency. Take a look at "her recent blog entry at NESEA". Thanks for explaining this for us, Andrea!


Friday, February 20, 2015

Advocacy Update

Greetings Green Building Advocates!

Here is an update on our key advocacy issues for 2015, Property Assessed Clean Energy Financing (PACE), Net Zero Building Code, and Net Metering.

Our PACE stakeholder focus group—made up of around 12 organizations and trade groups, primarily with environmental, labor, and economic development interests—is gaining momentum and working towards strengthening support for this year’s legislation. We are working with Senator Joyce’s office to bring in other co-sponsors up until the bill is brought out of committee. We are also collaborating with the Climate Action Business Group (CABA) to have a public forum around PACE financing and its relationship to resiliency planning.

Net Zero

The current version of the Act promoting zero net-energy buildings in the Commonwealth by Senator Eldridge is gaining more co-sponsors, and is targeting a more stringent path to Net Zero Building Codes. The advocacy team is continuing to expand our network of support around this issue.

Net Metering

Our advocacy team is following the progress of the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) Task Force on Net Metering. Among the issues the task force is examining are the potential impacts of a minimum bill for Massachusetts ratepayers and its impact on reaching the statewide goal of 1,600MW of solar. The task force has outlined 5 primary tasks to accomplish which you can see in detail here:consulting team status update and task presentation; the task force also provides a Table of policy options and a draft of the task 1 report

Mark those calendars now, the next Green Breakfast will be held on Thursday March 19th and we will have presentations to describe each issue, and how you can help build momentum to pass this years legislation!