For smaller projects, developers seeking clean energy solutions such as wind or solar face not only considerable up-front implementation costs, but also challenges from local municipalities and neighborhoods that tend to shun wind farms and solar arrays, which is one of the primary reasons developers of many projects tend to focus on reducing energy demand and increasing energy efficiency in their designs.
For the individual homeowner, though, utility companies offer—for a premium—energy purchased from clean sources. And depending on local zoning, homeowners can add solar, wind, and geothermal solutions.
For large developers, says Mike Dignacco, vice president of construction at Millbrook Ventures LLC, the first steps in an energy strategy are to “reduce the energy demand to properly operate a building for its intended use to the maximum extent practicable, and then determine the best method to provide the required energy for each specific building within the confines of the resources available to pay for it. The vast majority of the time this will lead to a multi-legged approach to the energy sources required for a specific building.”
Dignacco, whose firm is developing the sustainable Silo Ridge resort community in Amenia, says each project has many energy demand and supply variables. “But if you start by reducing energy demand, it makes it easier to determine the source of the energy supply and the ability to pay for it,” he says.
“For example, the means and methods are currently available whereby you can design and build a very well insulated, tightly sealed, and properly ventilated home with passive solar design components that has a very low energy demand and only requires a minimal amount of supplemental energy from traditional resources,” Dignacco says. “This home could be built for about the same cost of a ‘traditional’ home, but the cost to operate it would be greatly reduced. These means and methods…may not have the same applicability to a different building on a different site with a different end user with different needs.”
Mark Eickelbeck, executive vice president of AVR Homebuilders, says with large-scale projects, the focus is on energy efficiency—particularly by implementing AVR’s Energy Star-award winning energy efficiency designs in all of its projects. Eickelbeck says it’s important to note that there are currently no financial benefits to green certifications such as LEED. “But with energy efficiency, there are incentives to make it work,” he says adding that without energy efficiency awards and incentives, creating a high-performance green project “would not be economically feasible.”
For a homeowner, what is feasible is big savings from energy efficiency, which is why AVR and others are leading the way in creating large-scale, energy-efficient developments that feature tangible energy savings for the homeowner—between 15 and 30 percent, according to Eickelbeck and other developers.
From a higher altitude, it’s hard to determine if and when clean energy will become mainstream in the U.S. Following what some call a disastrous United Nations climate meeting in Copenhagen, clean energy alternatives need to overcome several hurdles such as high implementation costs and public opinion about wind farms and solar arrays, for example. Still, change is on the way. Last month, Google created a new subsidiary—Google Energy—to apply for federal licenses to buy and sell renewable energy.
And globally, wind farms continue to see growth while investments in other renewable energy sources such as solar and biofuel continue to gain momentum. In New York, NYSERDA and the Public Service Commission recently agreed to provide about $300 million for renewable energy projects, a portion of which is earmarked for five electric generating projects as well as two wind projects.
For now, it’s up to developers to build efficient structures and for homeowners to purchase cleaner sources of energy from distributers and consider installing a few solar panels and geothermal units to augment their energy needs when and where possible.
Jordan Barowitz, spokesperson for The Durst Organization, is blunt when it comes to what developers need to consider in regard to implementing a green energy strategy. “You have to be willing to take risks,” he says. “The easiest way to build a building is to do it the same way that you built your last. But building green requires innovation and an appetite for increased risk.”
Like AVR, Millbrook, and other developers, Durst approaches projects with a keen eye on energy efficiency, which Barowitz describes as “pivotal to a building being green. However, it is important to remember that a green building is not only energy efficient, but an efficient place to live or work,” he adds. “The most energy efficient building would have no windows or elevators, but no one would ever want to live or work in that building.”
For their part, utility firms—which deliver energy from a variety of sources—are strong advocates for energy efficiency and conservation as well as for offering consumers clean energy choices. John E. Maserjian, director of media relations at Central Hudson Gas & Electric, says “green energy can be defined as energy produced by renewable or sustainable methods, but also using energy efficiently through use of improved building materials and methods, and by use of high efficiency appliances, lighting, heating and cooling systems.”
For developers looking to implement a green energy strategy, Maserjian suggests an integrated approach to the building envelope and household systems. “For example, selection of building materials, insulation levels, air sealing, and air exchange; the type of heating and cooling systems utilized; the opportunity to use the sun for supplemental heating or natural lighting; landscaping design, for example to block cold winds in the winter and provide shade during warm weather—all should be considered together rather than as separate and distinct systems, with the goal of using energy efficiently and taking advantage of nature’s resources,” he explains.
In New York State, Maserjian and Mike Donovan, spokesperson at Orange & Rockland Utilities, say homeowners can tap incentives from NYSERDA for installing solar, wind, and geothermal. The incentives can cover a portion of the installation. “Once approved and certified, any excess energy produced by the systems can be net metered, or sent back to the local electric grid and in doing so spins the electric meter backwards,” Maserjian says.
Jane Quin, director at Orange & Rockland’s customer energy services department, underscores the importance of conservation and efficiency as part of any comprehensive green energy strategy. Charmaine Cigliano, section manager at the department, notes that many developers, unfortunately, tend to build a project and move on. “So we need to change the mindset of the developers to think in longer terms in regard to energy savings,” Cigliano says.
Robert Melvin, program administrator at Orange & Rockland, notes that consumers are slowly embracing high-performance green homes. “It’s become a differentiator in the market, especially with higher-end homes,” Melvin says, adding that when given the choice, these buyers will take a green home. Quin and Melvin say that given the geopolitical climate, it’s unclear where energy costs are headed, which is why there’s increased awareness among consumers.
Quin, Melvin, and Eickelbeck also point out that the current appraisal system needs to value these high performance green homes. Indeed, as New York House has reported, an outdated appraisal system seems to undervalue net energy homes, which generate power that is sold back to utilities.
There’s also growing interest in geothermal—especially at sites where solar and wind are impractical. Maserjian says new homes are ideal candidates for geothermal units. “Ground source heat pumps provide whole-house heating and cooling less expensively than most other systems, operate using electricity—no on-site fuel storage or combustion—are highly efficient, and use less energy,” he says.
Consumers also have the option of buying “renewable energy certificates,” which support the operations of green energy producers. Homeowners, businesses, and homeowner associations can enroll in Central Hudson’s “Customer Choice” program, which allows users to pick their own energy supplier.
For homeowners, businesses, schools, or hospitals looking to control the destiny of their energy needs, wind turbines and solar on site is an option. However, local zoning should be carefully researched to see if these units are allowed.
Recent design and technology innovations are making wind a viable solution. General Compression, for example, offers technology that regulates energy output regardless of the speed of the wind. Green Energy Technologies developed the WindCube, which acts sort of like a wind tunnel to generate greater velocities. Mariah Power hit the market with its Windspire turbine, a 30-foot tall and four-foot wide vertical unit that is silent and designed for residential, urban, and commercial sites. Quinnipiac University chose the Windspire for its micro-wind garden while software maker Adobe installed 20 units at its headquarters. Of note is that users who install wind solutions and other renewable technologies can take advantage of an uncapped investment tax credit.
Amy Berry, director of marketing at Mariah Power, says in a market where sustainability efforts such as LEED certification often go unnoticed by the general public, Windspire units on a green building can serve as a “green badge” so to speak. “A Windspire is clean energy that also changes how people interact with energy,” Berry says. “[The unit] makes a statement, and changes people’s behavior, making them more aware of energy conservation and efficiency.”
Resource List Wind Solutions GE Energy GE is the largest supplier of wind turbines in the world. gepower.com/businesses/ge_wind_energy/en/index.htm
WindCube Generates 160,000 kWh/year. Small footprint designed for urban settings. getsmartenergy.com
UGE-4K Designed for homes where average wind is 10 mph. urbangreenenergy.com
Windspire High efficiency, low noise, slim profile. mariahpower.com Solar Green Depot Daylighting attic fans, etc. greendepot.com
The Home Depot Solar kits for the DIYer. homedepot.com
Solarhome.org Solar kits for homeowners. solarhome.org
New York Solar Industries Association Professional association, policy initiatives. nyseia.org
The Solar Energy Consortium Advocacy, resource mobilization. thesolarec.org new-york.uscity.net/Solar_Energy Geothermal WaterFurnace International waterfurnace.com
Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium Information, professional directory. geoexchange.org Renewable Energy Solutions Hudson Valley Clean Energy Offers solar, wind, and geothermal. hvce.com
Alteris Renewables Offers solar, wind, and geothermal. alterisinc.com Other Resources New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Information, incentives. nyserda.org powernaturally.org/programs/solar/incentives.asp
Orange & Rockland Utilities Green tips, choose an energy supplier. oru.com
Long Island Power Authority Energy efficiency tips, incentives for builders. lipower.org/efficiency/nyesh.html lipower.org/efficiency/info.html
Central Hudson Gas & Electric Renewable energy certifictes, energy supplier choice program, and more. centralhudson.com/energy_choice/green_energy.html Net metering. centralhudson.com/dg/index.html Energy savings. savingscentral.com
Energy Star Tax credits, 30% of cost up to $1,500. energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=tax_credits.tx_index