Minneapolis goes green to save greenby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
The buildings we live and work in are energy hogs. When the buildings are owned by government, taxpayers end up footing the utility bill. Minneapolis officials have signed on to a plan which commits them to dramatic energy savings in new public buildings.
Minneapolis, Minn. — City Hall in downtown Minneapolis is a red granite behemoth that occupies an entire block and is topped with a distinctive clock tower.
Simple conservation measures by the city over the years have helped rein in the building's huge energy appetite.
Even so, the annual bill for heating, cooling and lighting City Hall is $1.7 million. That's $17 million over 10 years; $85 million over 50 years.
There's no plan to replace Minneapolis City Hall, but earlier this summer the City Council approved committing the city to outside energy audits of any new public buildings.
The action means the city will comply with standards called LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
Outside evaluators from the U.S. Green Building Council grant LEED points for buildings that are sited to make use of natural light for illumination and heating, for use of recycled building materials, for reducing waste and for other energy-saving strategies.
Minneapolis City Council Member Lisa Goodman says lots of building owners claim green status for their structures. But she says outside certification by LEED inspectors is more valuable because it's impartial.
Goodman played a key role in convincing fellow elected officials to adopt LEED. She says her knowledge of how green roofs save energy expanded her knowledge of how big a bite buildings take out of the energy pie.
"One-third of all energy in the U.S. is used in buildings," Goodman says. "One-eighth of all the water that is consumed is consumed because of buildings. And in fact, two-thirds of all our electricity use in the United States is consumed by buildings."
Minneapolis architect Rick Carter says not all energy conservation or green building ideas have a distinquished history. Carter is the architect advising the city on its plan to have a green standard applied to new buildings.
One of the bad ideas emerged three decades ago during the oil embargo. Lots of buildings, including schools, were put up with as few windows as possible to save heating costs. The result, Carter says, was poor student achievement and unhealthy buildings.
The new strategy, made possible because of highly efficient windows, is that light is good.
"If you use daylighting to reduce the amount of required artificial lighting in a space, you have also reduced the need to cool the space with mechanical equipment," Carter says. "So there are things that you can do that get LEED points that work toward a green building that actually cost less."
The U.S. Green Building Council is a 14-year-old nonprofit whose members include building owners, product manufacturers, architects and others.
tom Hicks, vice president of the U.S. Green Building Council, is a mechanical engineer and veteran energy conservationist for the federal government.
One of the newer LEED-certified buildings in the country is the first structure going up at Ground Zero on the World Trade Center site in Manhattan.
"I believe it's 30 percent recycled steel content in that building," says Hicks. "They salvaged 75 percent of the construction waste on that site. That's reducing the amount of waste that has to go landfills."
Hicks says 16 states and 56 U.S. cities have agreed to follow LEED building principles. Minnesota is not among them. So far, Minneapolis is the only city in the state to sign on. Minneapolis' plan does not require developers who do business with the city to submit projects to LEED certification. Portland, Oregon and several other cities do.
Some builders balk at paying the slightly higher construction costs to get LEED certification. A growing number appear to embrace the long-run cost savings and the cachet of having a building certified as green.
Portland spokesman Mike O'Brien says the green certification is a major selling point for the condos and commercial space in that city's huge Brewery Blocks renovation near downtown.
"They rented up faster, sold condominiums faster than they would have without that quality that people were looking for, when they went to rent an office space or buy a condo," O'Brien says.
One of the first LEED-certified commercial buildings in the Twin Cities belongs to Quality Bicycle Parts in Bloomington, the country's largest bicycle parts distributor. Company spokesman Scott Chambers says a big factor in winning green LEED certification was the decision to use their existing site.
"The biggest impact I think we had environmentally was, we chose to stay where we were and redevelop existing industrial space, rather than packing up and moving to a greenfield site somewhere in the suburbs, or in a different location in the state or something like that," Chambers says.
The LEED standards have spread to other countries, including Canada and India. There's also a World Green Building Council, whose members are trying to apply LEED principles elsewhere.
- Morning Edition, 09/14/2006, 7:24 a.m.