County group OKs energy efficiency benchmark

Thursday , July 31, 2014 - 5:22 PM

Even in red-state Utah, pragmatic conservatives have joined the drive to “go green,” banking on long-term operational savings from proactive investments in energy-efficient buildings and equipment.

In June, the Utah Counties Indemnity Pool board approved an “energy efficiency upgrade endorsement” that paves the way for additional funding that counties can tap to obtain LEED certification and “upgrade to green” when replacing buildings or equipment.

Formed in 1992, UCIP consists of county members who provide group self-insurance coverage.

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, refers to the U.S. Green Building Council’s certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. To become LEED-certified, building projects must satisfy various prerequisites and earn points to qualify for different certification levels ranging from silver to platinum.

In a statement posted on the Utah Association of Counties website, UCIP Chief Executive Officer Johnnie Miller described the endorsement as an opportunity for county officials to show that “they are making every effort to be fiscally responsible and reduce costs to the taxpayers.”

According to LEED, buildings account for about 73 percent of U.S. electricity consumption and produce a significant portion of the greenhouse gas emissions that have been linked to climate change. But LEED efficiencies can trim energy and water bills by up to 40 percent, UAC’s website said. 

Weber County’s Pleasant Valley Branch Library in Washington Terrace, completed in 2009, achieved LEED gold certification. Acquiring that status meant putting an extra $100,000 into the structure’s heating and cooling system, said Weber County Library Director Lynnda Wangsgard, but Rocky Mountain Power provided a $10,000 rebate, and those efficiencies should yield $1.1 million in savings over the building’s projected 50-year life.

“That doesn’t include natural gas and water savings,” Wangsgard said.

Wangsgard applauded UCIP’s support for LEED certification.

“There are many in the community that misunderstand LEED, and many contractors and sub-contractors that are still not up to speed,” Wangsgard said. “The mantra was that they could build a building just as good but not have to certify — but that’s not the case.”

However, due to ideological differences with County Commissioners Matthew Bell and Kerry Gibson, LEED approvals will be absent from the Roy Headquarters Branch Library, which is currently under construction.

In May, Gibson approached the Library’s Board of Trustees with a list of cost-cutting measures to trim back the $45 million capital construction bond that voters approved in June 2013. And LEED certification was a chief target.

“This building is still going to be energy efficient whether we slap the (LEED) stamp on it or not . . . I don’t think we need that certification to hold the contractor accountable,” Gibson had told the board.

Library board members agreed to almost $632,000 in “value engineering” trims, and within days the rigorous documentation process required for LEED certification had also been scrapped in order to save $50,000.

Gibson is vice president of UAC’s Board of Trustees, and is also a member of UCIP’s board. In an email Thursday, Gibson told the Standard-Examiner that recent construction projects show Weber County’s commitment to building in an environmentally sustainable manner.

“We are committed to providing long-term value to our taxpayers on every project,” Gibson said, “and we are confident in the construction team providing day-to-day oversight ensuring that our libraries will operate with the highest of efficiencies.”

With several LEED-accredited professionals overseeing construction of the new Roy Headquarters Library, the project should stay on course even though it will ultimately lack official certification, Wangsgard said.

“The difference comes in that without the U.S. Green Building Council’s review of all of the work, there is no authentication that the subcontractors performed in terms of providing building materials that complied with specifications,” Wangsgard said.

However, she expressed confidence that the end product will measure up to LEED’s gold standard.

“We did our homework in advance, and had a great opportunity with the Pleasant Valley Branch to learn as a management team what goes in to constructing a LEED-certified building.”

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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