Making Energy Efficiency Attractive for Owners of Older Seattle Buildings

New York Times (06/19/13) Barringer, Felicity

For commercial building owners, replacing furnaces or boilers or reconfiguring the building’s shell involves sinking millions of dollars into an asset that the owner may want to get rid of long before the investment has paid off. However, a program at the Bullitt Foundation’s new building in Seattle is aimed at attracting the notice of commercial building owners around the country who may be reluctant to make heavy investments in such technologies. Under the program, if they, or investors, put in the capital for major efficiency retrofits, new revenue, based on precise measurements of energy savings, will keep coming in for decades. Currently, building owners, utilities, and utility regulators who underwrite some efficiency measures remain somewhat skeptical of what are called “deep retrofits,” such as swapping out furnaces, boilers, or the building shell itself — particularly for older, smaller commercial buildings, which, according to a new report, account for 47 percent of all commercial real estate outside the world of malls. Seattle City Light has agreed to the long-term purchase of energy savings from the Bullitt Foundation, whose new building is known for being ultra-thrifty with water and power. The savings will be measured by a new software program from EnergyRM, using a new kind of meter that will, from one day to the next, track and verify how much savings have occurred. The plan intends to ensure that utilities lose none of the revenue that supports their fixed costs while allowing them access to a new power source. The energy not used by Bullitt or any other building is purchased by the utility in a 30-year contract, just as if they were purchasing hydropower or coal-fired electricity. The building has already paid market rates for the unused kilowatt-hours. Seattle City Light buys them back for resale, paying for what were christened “nega-watts” more than three decades ago. The working estimate is that Bullitt will use about one-third of the electricity a new building constructed to city codes would use — a saving of more than 500,000 kilowatt-hours annually. For that savings, Seattle City Light would pay about $44,000.

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