1325 East 16th Ave, Denver, CO 80218

Study Finds Energy Policy Discourages All-Electric Buildings

The state is constructing tens of thousands of new buildings that cost more to build and lock in higher CO2 emissions all amid growing efforts to accelerate emission reductions

A report commissioned by Community Energy and prepared by Group14 finds that the upfront cost to build new residential buildings with all-electric space and water heating is roughly 25% less expensive than comparable equipment powered by natural gas. Similar, but smaller percentage savings arise for new all-electric commercial buildings. This shift to all-electric has not yet occurred, however, principally because current electricity rates and rebate programs for all-electric systems in Colorado produce higher total costs.

Prepared by Group 14 Engineering, the report further concludes that once buildings are constructed, the economics of retrofitting from natural gas to all-electric are far more difficult — bordering on cost prohibitive. As a result, Colorado is currently building tens of thousands of new residential and commercial buildings that both cost more and lock in higher CO2 emissions for the majority of a building’s +50-year life.

“Colorado spent over $16 billion on new residential and commercial construction in 2019, with the overwhelming majority of these new buildings relying on natural gas,” said Eric Blank, Co-Founder and Director of Community Energy, Inc. “Colorado has a near-term opportunity to modify its energy rates and rebate programs to encourage building electrification and accelerate the clean energy transition.”

Through a detailed economic case study of an individual single-family residence and commercial building in Colorado, the report shows that the state can quickly modify its rates and rebates to make all-electric the most cost-effective choice. This would begin to move new construction toward all-electric, enabling a low-carbon future.

“Simple changes today can make a large difference in realizing the low-hanging fruit of electrifying new building construction and reducing carbon emissions, all while providing comparable comfort and service,” said the report’s lead author Celeste Cizik, Principal at Group14 Engineering.

About Community Energy:

For more than twenty years, Community Energy has partnered with utilities, Fortune 500 companies and local communities to develop roughly 2,000 MW of wind and solar, representing a close to $4 Billion investment. As an early entrant in commercializing clean energy, Community Energy leverages emerging technologies and resources to support decarbonization of our energy systems and promote fuel-free approaches. Headquartered in Radnor, Pennsylvania, with offices in Boulder, Colorado and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Community Energy has a strong presence in diverse geographical markets. For more information about Community Energy please visit www.communityenergyinc.com.

About Group14 Engineering

Group14 Engineering is a nationally recognized engineering and sustainability consulting firm delivering technical expertise, practical solutions and innovative best practices in the built environment that benefit developers, building owners, their occupants and society throughout the life-cycle of the building. Group14’s mission is to transform the built environment to realize a more resilient future. Based in Denver and in business since 1992, Group14 Engineering brings solutions to projects throughout the United States.  For more information about Group14 Engineering, please visit www.group14eng.com.

Group14 Celebrates Earth Day

Green Roof Initiative in Denver – What You Need to Know (Continued)

Examining Alternative Approaches

More on the Denver Green Roof Initiative that passed in November and that we blogged on earlier this month. As we track the progress of the Review Task Force, Group14 anticipates modifications that will allow design teams to achieve equivalent environmental benefits through other approaches.

The task force is looking at Seattle’s Green Building Standard and Chicago’s Green Permit Program. Both programs offer permit incentives and require green building certification, such as LEED. The task force also heard from the Denver Building Department that they are considering the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) as a stretch code.

Alternative Approach Incentives

Denver also has the opportunity to leverage incentives from Xcel Energy and Denver Water with these alternative approaches. Group14 has been a consultant for Xcel’s Energy Design Assistance program (EDA) for ten years now. Xcel’s EDA program has goals of 15% electricity demand savings and 15% natural gas savings.

Group14 performs energy modeling and guides teams on the most cost-effective energy efficiency solutions. On average, the projects Group14 works on to realize a 20% energy cost savings under 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). The energy modeling can also be used to demonstrate compliance with the 2015 IECC.

Green Roofs versus Energy Efficiency Measures

Using our Front Range projects as case studies, we estimated the associated cost for the area of the green roof required under the initiative. Using $25/sf as the cost estimate for a green roof (recognizing this depends on the application) the first cost for a green roof is estimated at $3-$5/sf of conditioned building area. However, K-12 schools may see double these costs due to the larger average roof area.

For comparison, the annual energy cost savings Group14 predicted for these projects is about 1/10th the cost of the green roof. The energy savings are not related to green roofs; they are the energy savings primarily from better glazing, efficient lighting design, and high-performance mechanical systems. The obvious question is how much do the energy efficiency improvements cost? Simply stated, we typically see an 8-12 year payback on the upgrades and shorter still by installing LED lighting. Depending on the goals of a project, the investment in energy efficiency can be within the same price range as the cost of a green roof.

A Path Forward

Group14 is a strong proponent for the City of Denver allowing alternative approaches to achieving equivalent environmental benefits of a green roof under the initiative. Our first pass on comparing the cost of a green roof with that of energy efficiency improvements, or green certification, is that the costs are the same order of magnitude. While the realized environment benefits differ with each approach, a design team should pursue what makes the most sense for the project.

Denver Green Roof Initiative – Sustainability Impact

As of January 1st, 2018 Denver became one of the first cities in the nation to mandate Green Roofs on their buildings with the passing of Ordinance 300. Denver’s initiative is modeled after a similar initiative in Toronto, which became the first North American city to require rooftop gardens seven years ago. Until this year, the only other U.S. city that had a mandate around green roofs was San Francisco (passed legislation in 2017), though many others including Portland, Chicago & Washington, D.C. have varying levels of incentives for rooftops gardens and/or solar-energy systems.

Ordinance 300 – An Overview

The initiative modifies the local building code to require a minimum of 20% green roof or a combination of green roof and solar photovoltaics on the rooftops of new buildings and existing buildings over 25,000sf. The rooftop coverage requirements increase 10% for every 50,000sf and is capped at 60% for buildings of 200,000sf or more. The rule for existing buildings would be triggered when the roofs of buildings that meet the size threshold are replaced or when building additions cause their total floor area to reach 25,000sf. The initiative also outlines a number of exceptions and variances (with a cash-in-lieu payment) that may apply to new and existing buildings.

Denver Votes to Embrace Sustainability!

The grassroots advocates of Ordinance 300 wanted to put some teeth into our talk of being a progressive green city, help Denver meet its 2020 sustainability goals, and mitigate some of the Cities’ environmental problems. Denver ranks 3rd in the nation for the highest heat island and 8th in the nation for the worst ozone/particulate pollution. The Denver Green Roof Initiative furthermore states that the requirements would help improve the City’s management of storm water and increase energy efficiency.

Despite strong opposition from organizations such as Downtown Denver Partnership and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the initiative was passed by the public in November 2017 with 54.3% of the votes. Opponents’ main concerns are the costs to developers, whether the initiative is complicated by Colorado water rights laws, and how it will affect large developments planned by the city and potential investors in the City.

Group14’s Roles

The initiative has required the creation of a Technical Advisory Board to guide the development of more detailed rules and regulations, to provide clarity to the mandate’s language, and to enforce the ordinance. The City has already begun this process and had their first public hearing on January 17th of this year.

There is currently a prohibition of any adjustments to the Initiative. Starting in May, the City Council can, with a two-thirds majority, make changes to the ordinance. Council members have insisted they won’t seek to repeal it outright. Instead, the city has created a Task Force that is meeting over the next several months to offer recommendations and improvements to the ordinance. The Task Force includes initiative backers and opposition leaders, Denver Water and Xcel Energy, green roof and energy efficiency experts, and representatives from the construction and real estate industries. The Task Force has already begun these diligent discussions regarding construction and implementation of green infrastructure mandates, impacts on other municipal initiatives, and how best to meet the City’s air quality goals and the ordinance’s intentions.

Group14, an expert in sustainability and as a technical advisor to the Task Force will keep abreast of the implementation of Ordinance 300, will continue to inform our clients how this impacts their project, and offer best practices around how to green our roofs. To learn more about our Sustainability team, visit their services page: https://www.group14eng.com/services/sustainability/

LEEDv4 Office Tour: Join Group14 at Rocky Mountain Green

Take a Tour of a LEEDv4 Gold Office!

Group14 has taken the plunge to LEEDv4. Our first project under the new version was with Davis Partnership for the build-out of their new office space on Blake Street in Denver’s RiNo Art District. Group14 functioned as the LEED and energy consultant and commissioning agent. The project targeted a LEEDv4 for Commercial Interiors Gold rating. Group14 and Davis Partnership will be hosting a presentation and tour of the space for the USGBC Colorado 2017 Rocky Mountain Green Conference slated for April 26, 2017. The Project Manager and Project Architect of Davis in conjunction with the Group14 LEED consultant and Commissioning Agent will lead the event. The presentation will highlight the achievements of the project and lend insight into lessons learned for future v4 projects. Come listen as we describe how an integrated approach to the project helped shape the finished product and how the team as a whole was willing to go above and beyond a typical design process to create a healthy environment and sustainable space.

While Group14 was well versed in the changes to LEED, it was the first version 4 project for the entire design team and an exciting learning experience. Despite the learning curve, the project was a success and is expected to achieve LEED-CI Gold status by the end of April 2017.

Occupant Well-being and the Modern Office Building

The scope of the project involved new mechanical, electrical, lighting, and plumbing systems with minimal envelope updates (save better glazing in clearstory with less solar heat gain and interior acoustic insulation in the roof). The chosen mechanical system is underfloor air distribution. One of the most valuable and progressive components to the office is the many movable partitions and flexible work spaces thanks to the UAFD system. Spaces can be changed as the company grows to fit the needs of the staff. To offset energy, the lighting is entirely LED, and daylighting strategies were implemented to reduce the amount of electric lighting utilized.

The team was dedicated to indoor air quality and occupant well-being. This is represented in the biophilic features incorporated into the project, which will be highlighted on the tour, and through finishes, furniture, and mechanical filters. To highlight the biophilic features of the space, there is a 20 foot plant wall in the center point of the office and dozens of plants in the open office area to reduce CO2 levels, purify the air, and improve productivity. Davis Architecture pursed the WELL Building Standard biophilia credit, earning a point under the Innovation and Design category for the Interior Design & Construction (ID&C) rating system. To enhance indoor air quality, MERV 13 filters were installed on all of the ERVs. Illumination level control and thermal comfort control was achieved through the installation of the underfloor air distribution system and individual task lighting respectively.

Navigating the New Materials Credits

Some of the most talked about changes to LEEDv4 are in the materials credit category. Through this project, the team learned new information and developed best practices for future projects. Architects have more responsibility when it comes to specifying materials under LEEDv4. The team recommends that projects consider having several material specific meetings early in design to ensure compliance with the building product disclosure and optimization credits. Blanket statements in specifications for the inclusion of projects that have Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), Heath Product Declarations (HPDs), and other criteria can cause submittal reviews difficulties. As an example, teams should outline what 20 materials and five manufacturers will have EPDs and provide limited products for contractors to choose from. Teams will need to allocate additional time to review submittals until manufacturers learn what is necessary for documentation. Several products were listed as LEEDv4 compliant on cutsheets without providing evidence that they meet credit requirements, thus requiring the team to contact manufacturers for confirmation of material compliance.

Please join us for the tour and presentation at Davis Partnership on April 26th, 2017. The address is 2901 Blake Street and the tour will begin promptly at 2 PM MST. You can register for this event at http://www.usgbc.org/event/rocky-mountain-green-2017

Group14 & the Living Building Challenge Collaborative March of Climate Change

Following Rocky Mountain Green on Saturday April 29th, Group14 Engineering, the Colorado Living Building Challenge Collaborative, and other like-minded individuals will gather at Civic Center Park to participate in the People’s Climate March on Denver. Join us in telling our elected officials on all levels that our environment matters! We will meet in front of Group14’s office, 1325 E. 16th Avenue at 9:30am to walk to Denver Civic Center together. The march will begin at 10 AM.

If you would like to learn more about our Sustainability services and our LEED experience, visit our Sustainability services page: https://www.group14eng.com/services/sustainability/

Increased Incentive – Xcel Energy Design Assistance Program (EDA)

Xcel Energy’s Energy Design Assistance Program (EDA) incentivizes developers & building owners to design and construct buildings that are more efficient through financial incentives. The program offers a comprehensive approach through energy consulting and energy modeling to predict energy use and analyze the cost savings potential of various energy efficiency strategies. Group14 Engineering has been working with Xcel Energy on the EDA program as a qualified provider since 2008. Our firm has helped over 350 buildings earn millions of dollars in incentives. With Xcel Energy increasing the incentives for the EDA program, we are excited to continue to provide energy consulting while helping building owners achieve higher incentives and increase energy savings.

New Incentive!

For 2017, Xcel Energy has increased their incentive for the Energy Design Assistance Program (EDA) resulting in increased financial incentives for the building owner or developer. The incentive calculation is based on energy savings gained from implementing systems and equipment that perform above code requirements. Xcel Energy increased the incentive for peak demand reduction from $400/kW to $450/kw. That is a 12.5% increase over 2016 – which means more money for your project. The incentive for electricity use ($0.04/kWh) and natural gas ($4/dekatherm) have remained the same.

2015 IECC Adoption

Xcel Energy increased the incentive for the Energy Design Assistance Program due to Denver (and several other jurisdictions in Colorado) adopting the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). Xcel Energy’s EDA program compares energy use of the proposed improved design to the local code energy use. In jurisdictions that have adopted the 2015 IECC, the baseline for the program changed from the 2009 IECC, thus reducing the amount of energy savings new building designs are achieving as the 2015 IECC baseline code is more efficient. To continue to incentivize energy efficiency in new construction, EDA increased the incentive for peak demand reduction. Projects that participate in Xcel Energy’s EDA program will also receive assistance from Group14 Engineering in meeting the new requirements of the 2015 IECC. Group14 Engineering helps projects achieve energy code compliance utilizing the Total Building Performance method in the 2015 IECC (Section C407). We have worked on projects in the City of Denver and other jurisdictions in the Denver Metro Area that have adopted the 2015 IECC as the energy code.

Xcel Energy EDA Program Eligibility

The Xcel EDA Program is available for all new construction and major renovation commercial and multifamily projects over 20,000 square feet located in Xcel Energy territory. Projects with aggressive energy goals of over 30% peak electricity demand savings may receive enhanced services to help cover the cost of daylighting modeling, early HVAC analysis, and / or LEED energy submittal documentation. Xcel Energy’s territory includes Denver, Jefferson, Boulder, Adams, Arapahoe, Weld and Douglas Counties. A complete list of the communities Xcel Energy serves in Colorado can be found here. If you are interested in participating please contact Group14 Engineering at info@group14eng.com or visit our EDA page: https://www.group14eng.com/services/energy-efficiency/

Group14’s Phin Stubbs Becomes WELL AP

We are proud to announce our own Phin Stubbs as the first WELL AP on our staff! When asked about this accomplishment, Phin pointed to the importance of health and wellness, “The WELL AP was important for me to demonstrate my extensive knowledge of sustainability not just through the built environment’s impact on the planet, but also on human health and wellness.”

Group14 has been at the forefront of promoting sustainable practices that save energy, reduce toxic material emissions, and improve indoor air quality. The WELL Building Standard is the first building standard addressing human health and wellness, a major component to sustainability, and thus, it is important to have WELL APs on staff to show our commitment to this standard. By passing this exam, Phin adds implementing WELL-based systems for buildings to the ways in which he can add value our clients.

From the International WELL Building Institute website: “The way that buildings are designed,
constructed and maintained impacts the way we sleep, what we eat, and how we feel. The WELL Building Standard uses innovative, research-backed strategies to advance health, happiness, mindfulness and productivity in our buildings and communities.” WELL looks at seven concepts to in measuring a buildings impact. The seven concepts are air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, mind, and innovation.

To learn more about our WELL and Sustainability experience, visit our Sustainability Services Page: https://www.group14eng.com/services/sustainability/

Group14 Remains LEED Platinum!

Group14 has kept our LEED Platinum Certification up to date via the LEED Dynamic Plaque! We achieved a verified performance score of 87, which visibly demonstrates our team’s leadership and commitment to high performance buildings.

Living Our Mission & Staying Green

One of the best things about Group14 is we continue to live the mission we sell to our clients. Why would you listen to us if we didn’t lead by example? Tell us what you are doing to stay green. Tell us how sustainability is affecting you projects and your community.

We Did Some Math

Based on our completed LEED projects our sustainability team has saved (using the EPA greenhouse gas equivalents). See our amazing results below!

Greenhouse gasses equivalent to:

  • 4,421 average passenger vehicles
  • 50,271,301 miles driven in a year by those vehicles

CO2 emissions equivalent to:

  • 2,376,278 gallons of gasoline consumed
  • 22,684,0000 lbs of coal burned
  • 276 tanker trucks worth of gasoline
  • 1,928 average homes energy use
  • 2,906 homes electricity use in one year
  • 5.47 wind turbines installed
  • 8,519 railcars worth of burned coal
  • 55,1835 incandescent lamps switched to CFLs
  • 48,984 barrels of oil

Carbon sequestered equivalent to:

  • 541,802 tree seedlings grown for ten years
  • 17,244 acres of U.S.
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