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  • 26 Mar 2010 3:30 PM | Ben Northcutt

    This week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its list of the top 25 cities with the most Energy Star rated buildings.  Denver placed fourth with 136 buildings behind Los Angeles (293), Washington, D.C. (204) and San Francisco (173).  Fort Collins also made the list at #24 with 36 buildings. 

    Nearly 3,900 buildings nationwide achieved the Energy Star rating in 2009, representing a savings of more than $900 million in utility bills and 4.7 million tons of CO2 emissions.

  • 23 Mar 2010 11:39 AM | Ben Northcutt

    Lynn Bartels, The Denver Post

    Colorado, already viewed as a renewable energy leader, took another step Monday when Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law a bill that will give the state the highest renewable energy standard in the Rocky Mountain West.

    The measure requires that 30 percent of electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2020.

    "This is a commitment to clean energy that is unparalleled in the country," Ritter said. "There is no place in the world that compares to Colorado in research and technological innovation around renewable energy."

    Current and former lawmakers watched, including the bill's Democratic sponsors, Rep. Max Tyler of Lakewood and Sens. Gail Schwartz of Snowmass Village and Bruce Whitehead of Hesperus.

    Under House Bill 1001, Xcel Energy and other investor-owned utilities serving Coloradans would be required to draw 30 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, rather than the current 20 percent.

    The bill also emphasizes small-scale, home-based energy production. The Governor's Energy Office has predicted the program could result in as many as 100,000 homes with solar panels, small wind turbines or other energy-producing devices.

    A provision in the bill requires that solar-panel installers be certified, a move Republicans said was intended to drive business to union members.

    Lynn Bartels: 303-954-5327 or 
    Read more:

  • 17 Mar 2010 10:51 AM | Ben Northcutt
    From Triple Pundit 
    By RP Siegel | March 17th, 2010

    The rollout of the highly touted Smart Grid ran into another buzz saw this week, this time in Texas, when a hundreds of consumers showed up at a town hall meeting, and the Grand Prairie City Hall, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, complaining that their recently installed wireless Smart Meters were responsible for higher electric bills. That led state senator Troy Fraser to get involved, asking the Texas Public Utility Commission to halt installation of the meters and to initiate an investigation.

    The meters were installed by the Texas utility Oncor Electric Delivery,  which services roughly three million customers in the area. The company has installed nearly 800,000 of these meters and insists that they are highly accurate.

    That doesn’t placate folks like Tricia Lambert, one of the hundreds who have complained, claiming, “My bills average between 1,500 and 2,000 kilowatt-hours, and it goes up a little more in the summer,” she said. “That’s pretty much where I stayed. The first month with the smart meter was 4,383 kilowatt-hours.”

    In some cases, like that of John Colbert, there were errors made by meter readers. An audit of his meter found that the smart meter was off by about 2000 kWh. Apparently, the meters are not read automatically. “Any time you’ve got humans involved in the process, there’s always an opportunity for errors to take place,” said Oncor spokesman Chris Schein.

    This experience closely parallels an earlier story in Bakersfield, CA, where PG&E customers voiced similar complaints. Bakersfield residents believe their new smart meters are malfunctioning because their bills are much higher than before and they have filed a class-action lawsuit against the utility.  An independent evaluator will be appointed by the California Public Utilities Commission some time this week.  PG&E claims higher bills are due to rate hikes, an unusually warm summer, and customers not shifting demand to off-peak times when rates are lower. Likewise, in Texas, this past winter was unusually cold.

    There are obviously several facets to this problem. First, there are undoubtedly glitches in the system, where meters have malfunctioned or human errors have caused homeowners to be billed incorrectly. These need to get ironed out quickly. There is no reason why wireless digital meters should need to be read manually.

    Secondly, there is the question of how have the utilities implemented the real-time pricing structure. Are they nominally the same, offering consumers the ability to reduce their bills below previous levels by doing laundry and running their dishwashers late at night? Or do customers have to go to extraordinary measures, just to get their monthly bills down to what they used to be?

    The mechanism behind the cost reduction that the smart grid promises to deliver is to save energy by reducing or eliminating the need for inefficient peaker plants. What’s most important in achieving this is the relative price levels between the peak and non-peak periods of operation. But what matters most to consumers are the absolute levels, which will determine the amount of their monthly bill. So, for example, if I’m paying twelve cents for a kWh now, will I pay four cents for off-peak and twenty cents for peak? Or will I pay ten cents for off-peak and fifty cents for peak? That information was not disclosed in any of the stories above, although in the Bakersfield case, PG&E did admit that there was a rate hike simultaneous with the meter rollout (probably not such a great idea).

    Finally, there is the question of communication. This is a more complicated deal than just getting a bill in the mail once a month and paying it. There’s more interaction, more participation by consumers in the system now. And most people don’t even know what they’re dealing with.

    A recent Harris Interactive poll found that 68% of respondents have never heard of the Smart Grid. Furthermore, 42% believe it will increase the cost of electricity.  And yet 67% said that if they could see how much electricity they were using they would be more likely to reduce their usage.

    A report from research firm IDC Energy Insights, and sponsored by telecom firm Telus, finds that utilities “have not thought through the implications of new technology and products on customer relationships or the business process.” In other words utilities are not at all prepared for the increased amount of communication, education and interactivity that will be required from installing new smart grid technology.

    PG&E will finish installing 8 million smart meters by the end of this year.  Currently there are no in-home energy management displays or dashboards accompanying the new smart meters.  Customers have no way to know how much their energy usage is costing in real time.  The utility does have plans to install these in the future.

    In a way, it’s a bit like selling people expensive plug-in hybrids without explaining to them that they have to plug them in at night, and then wondering why people are angry with this technology that is so obviously great at saving energy.

  • 12 Mar 2010 2:55 PM | Ben Northcutt

    from Environmental Leader - Nearly 93 percent of design and construction professionals continue to endorse green building despite the recession, according to a new green building survey. The survey also finds that support for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification slipped again in 2009, widening the gap between support for green construction and LEED certification.

    The “Fourth Annual Green Building Study” (PDF) reveals that support for green construction has slipped slightly over the past three years undefined 96 percent of respondents supported green construction in 2007, 93.5 percent in 2008 and 92.3 percent in 2009. There was a more significant change in LEED support, falling 11 percent in 2008 and 4.7 percent in 2009, with 62 percent of respondents supporting LEED certification. In 2007, 77.4 percent of respondents supported LEED certification and 66.4 percent in 2008. The survey was conducted by Allen Matkins, Constructive Technologies Group (CTG) and the Green Building Insider.

    Still, survey researchers say support for LEED certification remains high compared to USGBC’s goal to represent the top 25 percent of all construction projects. The survey also finds that cost remains a major driver for green building during the economic downturn with saving energy and other operating costs as the number one reason for building green projects. Nearly 98 percent of all respondents believe that energy costs will continue to increase in the future, while 88 percent of respondents said they are more likely to include energy saving or sustainable elements in their future construction projects, which is a 14 percent increase compared to 2008.

    Several studies released over the past several months corroborate the survey’s findings. According to Good Energies, about half of non-residential building stock will be green buildings by 2015, up from about 15 percent today, while a report from McGraw-Hill finds that green buildings in the retrofit and renovation market for major projects will  grow to 20-30 percent by 2014, up from five to nine percent today.

    According to research from Zpryme, the combined commercial and residential green building markets should grow nearly 146 percent from 2009 to 2013, representing a $128.6 billion market by 2013 with the commercial/institutional market for green building growing 137 percent from 2009 to 2013, to reach a $63 billion marketplace.

  • 06 Mar 2010 6:53 PM | Ben Northcutt

    from National Driller, March 1, 2010, by Greg Ettling - Most people understand the broad concept of what “geothermal” means, but there are distinctions to be made.

    As geothermal increasingly has become more mainstream, we need to do a better job of defining what is being discussed. This is no small matter to Ralph Cadwallader, who “just hates the fact that there is confusion, and not enough understanding of what I do and love.” Cadwallader is CEO of Loop Tech Intl., Huntsville, Texas, and he took some time to discuss the issue and share his thoughts:

    “I want to help folks understand that the word ‘geothermal,’ in reference to energy, has two very distinct origins,” Cadwallader explains. “There is massive confusion, or should I say little differentiation, of the two very distinct fields of pursuit in the media. I feel it is time to help clear the air.

    “On one hand, you have the hot rocks, or ‘Big G,’ which involves the guy who seeks to harness the unlimited high energy source called ‘magma’ found beneath the earth’s relatively thin crust. Magma is a complex, high-temperature (1,300 degrees F to 2,400 degrees F) fluid substance. The Big G is (deep) energy that is brought up to drive electric turbines or used as direct heat. You can read of places where the entire community’s heating system is directly connected to the one source.

    “On the other hand, you have the ‘Little G,’ which involves the guy, like myself, who seeks to recycle energy by using the solar energy that is stored in the earth’s shallow depths of 500 feet of subsurface, including bodies of water. The idea of geoexchange (geothermal, ground source heat pump, earth coupled) is that we can capture the energy that already exists and recycle it. Geoexchange is nothing more than circulating water across a hot refrigerant removing the energy from a conditioned space and storing that energy in the ground for winter use. The earth’s thermal mass will store the energy to heat the refrigerant when the reversing valve calls for heating. Reclaiming or recycling energy that already exists is just as important as finding new energy, and that is what I help my clients do.”

    "I suppose the word needs to get out that geoexchange describes my industry better. Would there be less confusion between the two if we had labeled one ‘geothermal’ and the other ‘geothermic?’ I prefer ‘geoexchange’ for the recycled stuff, the title given to the industry by the Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium.”

  • 05 Mar 2010 11:14 PM | Ben Northcutt

    Environmental Leader, March 5.   First there was Energy Star, the long-established energy ratings system. Then came Home Star, an incentive program supported by President Obama. Now, the Senate has introduced a bill that would establish a Building Star program to provide incentives to commercial buildings related to their energy efficiency.

    Building Star would promote energy efficient installations in commercial and multi-family residential buildings.  The bill was introduced March 4 by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).

    The program is expected to save building owners more than $3 billion on their energy bills annually by reducing peak electricity demand by an equivalent amount of power as that supplied by 33 300-megawatt power plants.

    If fully realized, the program would help reduce U.S. emissions by 21 million metric tons, the bill’s sponsors say. “Buildings represent 40 percent of the energy used in the United States, and many have old equipment that waste energy and money,” Pryor said.

    In addition to rebates to reduce the cost of energy-saving measures such as high-efficiency heating and improved insulation, “Building Star” would also extend low-interest financing options to small businesses and other building owners.

    Building Star is similar to Home Star, a parallel program put forward by Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) that offers energy-efficiency assistance to homeowners.

    Through the umbrella group Rebuilding America, Building Star has the support of the National Electrical Contractors Association, the Energy Future Coalition and the Center for American Progress Action Fund.  The American Architectural Manufacturers Association also has pledged its support for the measure.

    “Spurring retrofits of commercial and multi-family buildings through Building STAR can start to reverse the downward trend in construction and manufacturing by leveraging private-sector investment to create jobs,” said Rich Walker, AAMA president and CEO.

    Backers hope to see Building Star included in the upcoming federal jobs legislation.  At least so far, the incentive program would not replace the Energy Star program, or any of its programs that help promote energy efficiency in commercial and industrial settings.

    In February, it was announced that the EPA’s Energy Star Leaders prevented the emissions of more than 220,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide and saved more than $48 million across their commercial building portfolios in 2009.

    The EPA says these savings have quadrupled since 2008 and is the single greatest year of savings since the program’s launch in 2004.

    Among items proposed to be covered by the Building Star incentives are:

    - building envelope insulation;

    - mechanical insulation;

    - windows, window films, and doors;

    - low-slope roofing;

    - HVAC equipment, water heaters, and boilers;

    - duct testing and sealing;

    - variable speed motors;

    - interior and exterior lighting;

    - building energy audits, commissioning, tune-ups, and training; and

    - energy management and monitoring systems.

  • 24 Feb 2010 10:54 AM | Ben Northcutt

    Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction - By Penny Stine, Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - Anyone who has ever soaked in the hot springs at Glenwood Springs, Ouray or any of the dozens of other hot springs pools in the Rocky Mountains has enjoyed geothermal energy in Colorado.

    But geothermal energy is more than simply hot water springing up out of the earth, and Western Colorado is in a prime position to take advantage of it.

    Geothermal resources fall into three categories: electrical power generation, direct use and geothermal heat exchange systems, also known as geoexchange or ground source heat exchange.

    Geothermal heat exchange systems rely on the temperature of the ground rather than the temperature of surface springs or water below the surface to heat and cool buildings. Because the temperature of the ground remains fairly constant at about 55 degrees, it can be used to provide warmth in the winter and cooling in the summer via a series of loops buried three to six feet beneath the surface. Water or an antifreeze solution is circulated through the loops, where it is warmed in the winter and cooled in the summer. A water source heat pump and heat exchanger in the house convert it into warm air to heat the house in the winter. The process is reversed for cooling in the summer.

    “The Western Slope has been one of the best places in the state and across the country for implementing those systems,” says Matt Sares with the Colorado Geological Survey. “In terms of installing geoexchange systems, the Western Slope is ahead of the front range.”

    The Delta-Montrose Electric Association has been leading the way since 1997, offering special financing, education and installation packages when customers choose geoexchange systems.

    The success of the DMEA program, along with utility bills that are 30 to 70 percent less than with other HVAC systems, has prompted builders and homeowners in the Grand Valley to notice and take action.

    John Moir with Sunshine Development has been using geoexchange systems at the Village at Country Creek, the 55+ development in Fruita, since 2006. The reduced utility bills and more consistent, even temperatures throughout the house have proven to be good selling features for the retirement community.

    Using the ground to heat or cool a building works regardless of the size of the building. The student housing complex, new classroom building and new Student Center at Mesa State College all use geoexchange systems for heating and cooling.

    The college currently has three fields where loops are buried underground, with plans to create a fourth field to accommodate a retrofit of some of the older buildings, including Wubben Hall, the Science Center, the library and Houston Hall.

    “The new classroom building has carbon dioxide sensors and motion sensors that help determine how many people are in the building so the ventilation system adjusts itself,” says spokesperson Dana Nunn. “That building has been classified by Xcel as the most energy-efficient building on the Western Slope.”

    To sweeten the pot, the federal government allows a tax credit of 30 percent of the cost of a geothermal system. If a system costs $15,000 to install, homeowners can receive a $4,500 credit.

    It is possible to retrofit existing homes if they’re on a large enough property to bury the loop system required for geoexchange.

    “Any home that heats with propane is a good candidate for a geo retrofit,” says Harold Warth with Intermountain Energy. Warth has been designing and installing geoexchange system for seven years, getting his start with the DMEA.

  • 15 Feb 2010 6:42 PM | Ben Northcutt

    Legislation that will promote resource efficiency in the built environment!

    Representative Miklosi has introduced legislation in Colorado to create a statewide revolving loan fund for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy retrofits (similar to Boulder's 2008 Ballot Issue 1A).  Please see language link here:

    Rep. Miklosi is looking for supporting organizations and experts to testify on behalf of the bill.  If you're interested, please contact his office at 303-866-2910 or


    Many Colorado citizens would like to increase their home's property value, make their home more energy efficient, participate in the new green economy in a practical way, and help create good paying jobs in Colorado.  Passing this bill will accomplish all of these worthwhile goals. 

    The New Energy Jobs Creation bill will create a statewide, voluntary, non-contiguous, Special Improvement District (SID) that would empower home owners to hire approved companies to install solar, wind, geothermal renewable energy systems and or energy efficiency improvements.

    The voluntary plan will include approximately 53,000 homeowners each using approximately $15,000 per residence for a total of $800,000,000 in bonding authority.  The homeowners would collectively receive a lower bond rate because their homes would be used as collateral. The bonds would be paid by the participating residents over 20 years via a special assessment on their properties.  The assessment would be paid annually, there would be no pre-payment penalty, the local County Treasurer would collect the payments for a small processing fee, and a private sector, contracted company would administer the program.  Additionally, each county's set of county commissioners would have to approve the bill before their respective homeowners participate in the program.  This will increase branding and marketing of the plan.  The average annual assessment would be approximately $1,500 per homeowner but for some homeowners, the utility savings would entirely offset the assessment.   A percentage of the loan would be set aside in reserves in case there are foreclosures. 

    This bill will create a Title 32 SID and a board similar to the Clean Energy Development Authority (CEDA) to issue the bonds.  The SID will be similar in structure to Boulder's Ballot Issue 1A measure, which passed overwhelmingly on November 4, 2008 and in Eagle, Pitkin, and Gunnison counties in November, 2009 by a margin of approximately 65% - 35%.  There is consideration to making the bill a referendum on the November, 2010 ballot.


    • Creates 2,000 to 3,000 installation and supplemental jobs during the next five years.
    • Increases residential property value by approximately 8% to 10% long term.
    • Provides a practical way for Colorado home owners to help protect the environment.
    • Attracts solar and wind manufacturing companies to Colorado because we will continue to be a national leader in renewable energy.
    • Eliminates the big up-front investment that has blocked the widespread adoption of sensible energy improvements which normally take years to pay for themselves. Property owners can save money from day one, since the energy cost savings are often greater than the special property tax assessment.
    • The resulting widespread investment in energy improvements provides an immediate economic boost for Colorado and creates desirable jobs in the New Energy Economy.
    • Best of all, there's no cost to taxpayers, since the bonds are paid off over time by the property owners who choose to voluntarily participate in the program.
    • Other benefits include cutting our dependence on foreign oil, reducing global warming, and enhancing Colorado's position as a renewable energy leader.
  • 11 Feb 2010 7:26 PM | Ben Northcutt

    April, 2009.  Palmer Ridge High School in Monument is seeing green after installing a geoexchange heating and cooling system.  With the help of more than $190,000 in total rebates from Mountain View Electric Association and Tri-State Generation and Transmission, Palmer is already realizing savings.  In just one month, the school spent nearly $10,000 less for gas and electric than a nearby school with comparable sq. footage.

    The geoexchange system required two hundred 400' deep wells to create a loop field large enough to heat and cool the 217,000 sq. ft. building. Another side benefit is the elimination of boilers and chillers which freed up extra space that was used for classrooms and a rooftop garden.

  • 11 Feb 2010 6:58 PM | Ben Northcutt

    According to Green Lodging News, Yountville California's Bardessono Hotel has just been awarded a LEED Platinum certification, one of only two hotels in the world to receive this designation.

    As part of its sustainable design, the hotel uses a geoexchange system to heat and cool rooms and to provide domestic hot water.  The system extracts ground heat from 72 300-foot geothermal wells. 

    Other design features include a 200-kilowatt PV system that provides a significant portion of the hotel's electricity, LED and fluorescent lamps throughout the property, low flow water fixtures and recycling grey and black water for irrigation applications.

    Hotel builder Phil Sherburne wanted to create a hotel that combined luxury with environmental stewardship. “I believe it is critical for the development community to be a leader in the effort to preserve a healthy planet,” says Sherburne. “We can’t just continue to talk about environmental problems, we have to begin to act. I hope we have provided an example from which others can benefit.”



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