• For more information on Green Party membership or to contact Green Party leadership, email info@greensofarlington.org Join the Arlington Greens online on Zoom on Wednesday,October 7 at 7 pm. For Zoom meeting ID and password, email us at info@greensofarlington.org

October 12, 2020

Arlington Carbon Neutrality Goal by 2050: failure without local energy building code and tighter controls over demolition of existing houses

Development,environment — @ 3:20 pm

In 2019, the Arlington County Board approved the Community Energy Plan with a significant environmental goal that Arlington County become carbon neutral in energy use by 2050.  Nearly two-thirds of the 2.0 million metric ton carbon reduction would occur through de-carbonization of the electricity supply and changing all transportation to electric vehicles.  However, de-carbonization by itself alone cannot achieve carbon neutrality unless building energy efficiency is greatly increased and significant amount of local renewable energy production occurs (solar and geothermal energy).

The CEP set a goal that 23 percent of the 2.0 million metric tons of carbon reduction would come from local actions—11 percent from local renewable energy production and 12 percent from improving local buildings’ energy efficiency.  The county must adopt its own energy building code that requires new or renovated buildings to include state-of-the-art energy technology so that new buildings are mostly carbon neutral.  The county government should pass a restrictive energy building code, and then seek permission from the General Assembly to implement it.  The State building code is woefully inadequate and energy inefficient, as compared to most other Northeastern states.

New buildings should be required as part of the building code to add solar and geo-thermal energy.  Thus, Arlington could produce a significant amount of energy locally and not have to rely on the grid to bring in electricity produced elsewhere from solar or wind energy.   The grid cannot supply enough electricity to compensate for the loss of natural gas for heating.

Commercial buildings use 35 percent of local carbon emissions.  In the past, the county mainly encouraged energy efficiency in new commercial buildings through a subsidy program based on a bogus LEED, Energy Star or similar energy rating systems that do not significantly cut carbon emissions.  Academic research has now concluded that LEED and Energy Star and similar energy rating systems do not significantly reduce primary energy use in certified buildings. Marketing claims of 20-30 percent or more decline in carbon use in LEED buildings are bogus.

Arlington County has no data to confirm that the over 80 commercial buildings in Arlington with 37 million square feet that obtained LEED or Energy Star local subsidies used less energy than comparable non-certified buildings in the county.  The county should require as part of the CEP that all commercial property owners annually report use of water, electricity and gas or fuel for heating by building. 

Residential buildings.–About 23 percent of carbon emissions in the county in 2016 came from residential buildings; about half of the residential use was in detached or attached single family houses, and the other half was in multifamily housing.   There are about 28,500 detached single family houses and 11,200 attached single family houses in Arlington in 2019, according to the Arlington County Office of Planning, Housing and Development.  Many of the houses in the county were built in the 1950s and 60s or earlier and are energy inefficient. 

The county government should fund a program to give $1,000 to homeowners to weatherize and retrofit their older energy-inefficient houses.  Basic weatherization and energy refits that cost generally under $5,000 can reduce a typical house’s energy use by up to 20 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.  With more substantial and expensive energy upgrades, such as solar panels and solar hot water heaters, the energy use in existing houses in Arlington could be cut by well over 570 percent and very close to carbon neutrality.

Tear downs of existing houses in Arlington pose a major obstacle to having carbon neutral housing.   The tear down of an existing house and the building of a completely new conventional house typically uses about 50 m tons of carbon.  A new house in Arlington is often twice or three times larger in living space than the demolished house.  Since energy use is directly proportional to square footage, the new larger house built under current building codes will use at least twice as much energy although energy efficiency in the new building can cut perhaps 30 percent use.  Nevertheless, each older house demolished and replaced raises energy use by at least one hundred percent.

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September 19, 2020

Tear downs of old homes and building McMansions raises carbon emissions, and should be halted

Development,environment — @ 2:34 pm

The rising value of land and houses in Arlington has resulted in a very unhealthy rise in carbon emissions and other environmental damage because of the demolition of older and smaller houses and the building of mansions with often two or three times the living area of the demolished house. All living vegetation and trees are demolished on site to build the new house, and more open surface area is paved which thus increases storm water runoff and raises the temperature because of loss of tree canopy.

The County Board decided in 2019 to have a carbon neutral county by 2050.  The demolition and then the construction of a new house typically raises carbon emissions by about 50 metric tons. A remodeling of an existing house typically raises carbon emissions by 15 m tons. A typical house in the U.S. generates 7.5 m. tons of carbon a year; even if the new house generated 30 percent less than the demolished house, it would take 20 years to recoup the carbon used in the new construction. However, new and larger square footage houses use more carbon in operating energy than the demolish house.

Energy use of a house is proportional to the square footage of the house. Thus a typical new 4,000 square foot house in Arlington would use nearly twice as much energy as an existing 1,400 square foot house. If the new house meets high insulation and building tightness standards (perhaps 30 percent more efficient), then the new house uses only 100 percent more energy.

The only realistic way for the Arlington County Board to halt this tear down disaster is to impose a county wide zoning called a historic district designation on all Arlington neighborhoods. A historic district zoning de facto blocks tear downs of houses, but does allow for renovations and additions.

The historic district also requires that older trees and existing green space be preserved so that there is no loss of tree canopy. There is one Arlington neighborhood Maywood that has had a historic district since the late 1970s and in the 40 years, no house has been demolished although most have been renovated and expanded.

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June 15, 2020

Arlington Greens Release Lecture on U.S. LEED Green Buildings by Oberlin college professor Scofield, Finding Minimal Environmental Benefit

Development,environment — @ 3:39 pm

June 15, 2020

The Arlington Greens announced today the release online of a talk on March 2 in Arlington by Oberlin College of Ohio professor John Scofield, a national expert on green building technology, on his research into marketing claims that green-certified buildings such as the LEED rating significantly reduce carbon emissions.  EcoAction Arlington, an Arlington environmental non-profit organization, co-sponsored the talk held at the Arlington County public library with the Arlington Greens.  The Arlington Independent Media and Miriam Gennari of the Sustainable Scoop recorded the talk and interviewed professor Scofield.

View the one-hour talk online   https://youtu.be/UeolxpvJzVk

Professor Scofield used energy data from hundreds of thousands of commercial buildings in ten major U.S. metro areas to examine if energy certifications like LEED (a trademark meaning “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”) significantly reduce carbon emissions over non-certified comparable buildings.  His findings demonstrate very small, almost negligible carbon savings.  Scofield found that carbon emissions reductions in LEED buildings are quite modest, generally well below 10 percent, and well below marketing claims of over 25 percent.

The research finding that LEED and other similar commercial building energy rating systems save only negligible amounts of carbon emissions is an important environmental policy issue for Arlington County and for many other U.S. communities.  Over 40 such certified buildings in the county got generous subsidies based on now discredited claims of substantial carbon emissions reductions.  Arlington County subsidies for bogus green energy technology wastes county funds which should be used to incentivize proven effective green technology that does substantially reduce carbon.

In 2019, the Arlington County Board approved a community energy goal that the county become carbon neutral within 25 years.  About 80 percent of carbon emissions in the county occur in commercial and residential buildings, and thus the county’s goal can only be achieved by large carbon emissions drops in buildings.   The county government’s past reliance on LEED and similar energy certifications to reduce energy use in commercial buildings now appears to be wrong.

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March 13, 2020

Tear downs and Large Energy Wasteful Houses Contribute to Rising Carbon Emissions in Arlington

Development,environment — @ 4:31 pm

Energy use in Arlington for homes has been rising over the past few years, in part fueled by more residents but also by changes in the size of new houses being built, particularly detached houses.  The 9-percent rise in residents in Arlington during 2010-18 increased use of electricity and natural gas in apartments and houses, but so did having more new McMansions.[1]  During 2010-18, residential use of electricity in Arlington rose 3 percent to 809 million kilo watt hours (kwhs), while use of natural gas rose 28 percent to 91 million therms. [2]

The average house in the United State has about 1,971 square feet of living space; the average house in Virginia is slightly larger at 2,227 square feet, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.[3]  The larger the living area, the more energy is required to heat, cool, and power devices and appliances in that space.

In Arlington over the past decade or so, more and more older detached houses, generally with under 1,500 square feet of living space, are torn down, and replaced by a new 4,000 or larger square foot house.  In 2019, the number of such tear downs amounted to 158.[4]

While the new house may have better insulation and often more energy saving appliances than the demolished house, the much larger living space overwhelms any such energy efficiency savings.  Studies of energy use in U.S. houses indicate that a 4,000 square foot house uses about 160 percent more electricity than a 1,500 square foot house, and about 76 percent more natural gas, as outlined here.[5]

Energy use by size of house in the United States:

Size of house                   Electricity    Natural gas    Combined Carbon 

(Annual in kwhs)  (Annual in therms)    (Metric tons)

Average 1,500 ft2 house     12,000                   10                       8.9

Average 4,000 ft2 house     31,200                   18                     22.0

Increase (percent)               160                          76                      146

 

From a carbon emissions basis, the larger house uses 146 percent more carbon than the 1,500 square foot house.   The larger house is 167 percent larger in living space, but uses about 146 percent more carbon.  Thus, standard building or appliance efficiency does not overcome the effects of the larger living space.   A new larger house would need to cut its emissions by 146 percent and that would require solar panels, much better insulation, geothermal heating and cooling, and other passive building technology.

[1] The population of Arlington rose 9 percent from 207,000 to 225,000, according to Arlington County VA,  Profile 2018, and Profile 2008 https://arlingtonva.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/31/2018/04/2018Profile.pdf

[2] A therm is the heat value of natural gas; 100 cubic feet of gas (CCF) equal 1.036 therms.

[3]  U.S. Dept. of Energy,  “Household energy use in Virginia,” based on 2009 data,  www.eia.gov/consumption/residential

[4] Arlington County, “Quarterly Development Tracking Report,” for 2019, https://projects.arlingtonva.us/data-research/development/quarterly-tracking-report/

[5] Natural gas use data from Http://pemc.coop, and electricity use from https://comparepower.com/kwh-electricity-energy-usage-calculator/  Energy data were converted to carbon equivalents as follows:  1,000 therms equals 5.3 metric tons of carbon; 1,423 kwhs equals 1 metric ton of carbon.  Source:  EPA.

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February 5, 2020

Are LEED Commercial Buildings Really Green–Talk by Oberlin College professor with Q&A

Development,environment,Events — @ 12:30 pm

Measured Energy Savings & Greenhouse Gas Emissions from LEED-Certified Buildings, Talk by Oberlin College Professor John Scofield, followed by Q&A on implications for 2020 Arlington Energy Plan for Carbon Neutrality

Monday, March 02 at 7-9 PM  Arlington Central Library   (1015 N. Quincy Street)  Arlington, VA 22203

Oberlin College professor John Scofield, a national expert on U.S. green building certification, will speak about his research on energy savings and greenhouse gas emissions from LEED buildings that demonstrate such building certifications do not significantly reduce emission from commercial buildings.   Discussion follows on Arlington County’s own green building program, and the forthcoming 2020 Community Energy Plan in Arlington that proposes to make Arlington carbon neutral.  Attendance is free.   EcoAction Arlington is co-sponsor with the Arlington Greens.   Attendance is free.

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January 9, 2020

Greens ask Virginia General Assembly to give Arlington local powers over energy/environmental building codes

Development,environment — @ 5:55 pm

At the January 7 meeting, Arlington Greens agreed to ask Arlington state delegates and state senators to support granting Arlington County local powers over energy/environmental building codes so that Arlington can achieve carbon emissions cut set by Paris Climate Treaty.  We ask that Greens and community members also contact their delegates and senators to support this common sense environmental legislation:

Petition to Arlington state delegates and state senators, January 2020 on allowing local authority to achieve environmental/energy plan

To:   Virginia General Assembly Delegates Patrick Hope, Alfonso Lopez, Mark Levine, Rip Sullivan, and State Senators Barbara Favola, Adam Ebin, and Janet Howell:

As residents of Arlington, we ask that you support environmental legislation in this session of the General Assembly that would allow the Arlington County Board of Supervisors to modify the existing Virginia building codes so as to strengthen energy savings and environmental protection for any buildings in Arlington.   We ask that Arlington be permitted a local option to override Virginia State building codes so that Arlington can fulfill its Community Energy Plan that would meet the required carbon emissions stipulated in the Paris Climate Treaty.  The Arlington County Board approved its community energy plan in September 2019, but does not have the full authority under state law today to implement it.

The Virginia Board of Housing and Community Development (BHCD) has repeatedly failed (as recently as 2017) to approve the minimal International Environmental Conservation Code that would have achieved at least a 30 percent savings in energy use in new buildings, and thus new buildings in Virginia are very energy wasteful.

Arlington County needs authority to require builders of new structures to meet stringent energy savings including carbon neutral buildings, mandating geothermal and solar voltaic panels, enhanced insulation, among other features in order to meet its community energy plan goal to have a carbon neutrality goal by 2050.  It cannot do this since 80 percent of carbon emissions in Arlington occurs in buildings without stricter building codes.

We therefore act that authority be delegated to Arlington County or to any other jurisdiction that may also want to implement its own strict environmental energy plan (such as the City of Alexandria) to strengthen building codes so as to achieve energy savings and thus meet environmental goal on carbon emissions.

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November 9, 2019

Greens support temporary halt to new buildings in Arlington until energy plan is approved

Development,environment — @ 12:20 pm

Arlington Greens voted at their meeting on Nov. 6 to support a petition to the Arlington County Board to temporarily halt new building construction permits until the county board is able to approve an effective Community Energy Plan that will force buildings to have green building and green energy in all new buildings.

The County board in September passed a partial Community Energy Plan (CEP)that sets out the goal that Arlington will be carbon neutral within 25 years or so, but that plan had no funding or building zoning changes that would have compelled new buildings to meet this high green energy standard. New buildings–residential or commercial–will last often over 40 years, and using current wasteful, carbon-based electricity and heating will mean no reduction in carbon emissions from them for the next 40 years.

The County Board has promised to enact the full CEP by June 2020 that will include changes in building codes so that the environment and carbon emissions can be improved. The county needs to halt giving out building permits until the June CEP is approved. Amazon has proposed building two towering high rises in Pentagon City–these should NOT be approved until we have a full CEP.

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October 7, 2019

Arlington Judge Blocks Historic Preservation of Westover Apartments

Arlington Judge William Newman ruled against community efforts for historic preservation in Westover on September 29. We had asked him to require the county to complete our historic petition for Westover, but the judge says the county can take as many years or decades as it chooses to complete historic review even if all the buildings are lost. He dismissed our lawsuit without even a full hearing on the merits.

Judge Newman—a Democrat and former member of the county board himself— ruled that the county can delay forever in processing our historic petition forever. He did not even have the sense of justice to allow us to argue our case with evidence at a trial. He dismissed our case with prejudice (meaning we can never re-file).

He ruled that the county does not have to proceed at all on our historic petition which was filed about 3 ½ years ago. Since we filed our historic petition, four apartment buildings were demolished in addition to seven demolished before.

Digital Camera

It is ironic that Judge Newman is married to a billionaire and lives in a mansion on an estate in Middleburg Virginia worth many tens of millions of dollars, and ruled that it is okay for the county government to allow the demolition of 70-year old apartments that house renters who live on very small incomes. There is plenty of room in Arlington for millionaires and billionaires living in their big mansions, but no room for a disabled veteran, a school aide or a library technician getting by on under $50,000 a year.

It is a lousy and unfair justice and political system that values billionaires and developers over modest people living in Arlington. Justice deferred is justice denied. This is not justice.

We cannot appeal the judge’s egregious decision to the Virginia Supreme Court since this would cost us at least $15,000, and we can never recoup any of these legal fees even if we were to win our case. So our justice system works well for the rich and developers, but not for ordinary people in Arlington.

With our court case thrown out, we asked the county board itself to bypass the local historic review board and take up the matter itself and give us a final decision. But this is highly unlikely as the board is in league with developers who choose to demolish older and simpler homes and build new, bigger, more energy wasteful, and expensive homes for the rich. And we wonder why we have an affordable housing problem in Arlington.

We will continue as best we can to preserve Arlington along with modest apartments for middle and working income people in Arlington.

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October 1, 2019

Arlington’s Energy Plan to reach zero carbon emissions based mostly on hot air and platitudes

Development,environment — @ 11:17 am

Arlington County Board of Supervisors on September 21, 2019 updated its six-year old Community Energy Plan (CEP), and increased its goal from a 75-percent reduction in carbon emissions within Arlington County by 2045 to net carbon neutrality by 2050. The actual policies needed to do this will be considered in a separate implementation policy in June 2020. So for now, the CEP is merely hopes and not concrete actions to be taken.

Why did the county only approve goals but not at the same time the means to achieve these goals? The plan has no funding nor new county ordinances or requirements. The plan calls for the county government to use only renewable power within 6 years, and all residents and business to use only renewable power by 2035.

The problem with that is that Virginia today has NO commercial renewable electricity. In 2018, about 3.1 million megawatts of electricity were consumed by commerce, residents, and government in Arlington. To supply that amount of electricity would take the electricity generated from the largest wind tower farm in the world (the London array with a daily capacity of 7,120 megawatts) for the +200,000 residents of Arlington.

Dominion Energy proposes to build a large wind farm off Virginia coast by 2026 with a capacity of 2,600 megawatts daily capacity that could supply only one-third of Arlington’s electricity use today.

It can argued that the 2013 CEP failed on nearly all of its goals, although some external and market driving factors did allow county emissions to drop slightly. A large proportion of existing office space became vacant during 2007-18, and Dominion Energy began phasing out coal-fired electricity for natural gas-fired electricity which produces less carbon emissions.

During 2010-18, net carbon emissions from buildings did drop by 4 percent or very close to the 2013 target of a 5-percent drop but only because of high rates of office vacancy. The bad news and more foreboding is that carbon emissions in residences rose by 14 percent, driven in part by a 9-percent increase in county residents.

The 2013 CEP failed owing to several factors: the State of Virginia Building code for new residential units was not strengthened to require builders to achieve a 30-percent energy savings. Secondly, no cogeneration power plants were built in Arlington that would have reduced commercial use of natural gas and electricity. Third, even the LEED certified buildings added in Arlington did not achieve significant energy savings.

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September 24, 2019

Arlington Green Building Certification Program Mostly Green Washing

Development,environment — @ 4:06 pm

Arlington County gives subsidies to builders who obtain LEED certification for a new building that is supposed to cut energy use by 25-30 percent. The main subsidy given is zoning approval to add more floors and height to a new building, and in some cases tax credits. The first building was certified in the Arlington program in 2006.

During 2006-16, about 89 buildings were built in Arlington with a so-called “Green building certification” that include mainly LEED (Green Building Council), Earth Craft, Energy Star, and Water Sense EPA. But in the 13 years that program has operated, County staff have been unable to verify that these certified buildings use less energy than comparable non-certified buildings.

Nationwide, independent researchers cast doubt that LEED or similar rating systems result in any significant energy reduction. One researcher obtained energy use data for 10 major metro areas with large numbers of green certified (mainly LEED) buildings, and found that these building use MORE energy than comparable non-certified buildings, according to research from Oberlin College professor John Schofield. Perversely, he found newer LEED buildings tend to host more energy intensive activities, such as more computers and cellphones.

Thus, although Arlington has about 90 more energy certified buildings, it is not apparent that these buildings actually use less energy, and based on more comprehensive studies of ten major metro areas including Washington DC, such building would be expected to use more energy and not less.

There are proven ways to reduce energy in commercial buildings but these largely involve external factors—addition of solar panels outside the building, geothermal heating and cooling, and sourcing of renewable electricity.

The county government should revise its green building program to require developers to use external technology rather than rely on a certification program that results in no or even higher energy use. The current county program is green washing: allowing a developer to claim public relations credit and a significant subsidy for doing nothing to cut energy use.

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