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Feelin' Green-y
Environment-friendly administration means good news for sustainable builders

Among the less-publicized items in the government’s $700 billion bailout package passed on October 3 was a whopper for the architecture and construction industries: significant tax credits for renewable energy initiatives like solar, biodiesel, wind, and geothermal. The legislation, known as the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008, includes an extension of the 30 percent tax credits for residential and commercial solar installations. The solar credits, originally enacted in 2005, were set to expire at the end of this year, but will now continue for another eight years. Their former cap of $2,000 has been removed. The Solar Energies Industry Association predicts that with the credits intact, there will be $232 billion more invested in solar installations over this time period.

Even better news for sustainable builders arrived on December 6 when President-elect Obama pledged to create the largest public works construction program since the 1950s and dedicate significant funds to new clean tech infrastructure. During his campaign, Obama also said he would increase new building energy efficiency in the country by 50 percent over the next ten years and make all new buildings carbon neutral by 2030. Obama promised to weatherize one million low-income homes a year, and to create a competitive grant program that rewards state and local governments that implement building codes prioritizing energy efficiency. Obama said he’d put $150 billion into clean technology over the next decade. He even proposed a green jobs corps, a clean energy corps, and has committed resources for smart growth, mass transit infrastructure, and transit-oriented development.

“We really think his proposals during the campaign offer a tremendous amount of promise for green building,” said Jason Hartke, director of advocacy and public policy at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). “It would be a commitment like we’ve never seen from the federal government.” The USGBC estimates that if the administration keeps its renewable energy commitments, there will be 2.5 million new jobs created. Hartke added that the measures should transform how architects consider designing. “I think it’s going to allow architects to be as creative and innovative as possible when they look at a project, and to start thinking of ways to integrate sustainable design.”

Of course, Hartke warned that we still have to find out which proposals become reality. Skeptics have wondered where the money for green initiatives will come from in these tough economic times, especially given the high price of many sustainable technologies. Some even warn of a coming “green bubble.” And the USGBC said it would like to see more concrete evidence of support for local green building initiatives, not just national ones.

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger promised to work with Obama on these and other green measures. While Eric Lamoureux, spokesman for the California Department of General Services, noted that many of Washington’s plans are already in place in California. These include a 2004 executive order that all new public buildings be LEED certified; AB 32 (2006), set to reduce carbon emissions in California to 1990 levels by 2020; and new state standards calling for all construction to reduce energy and water usage by 15 and 20 percent, respectively.

Sam Lubell