Loudoun County's supervisors are considering scrapping a county policy that aims to ensure energy efficiency and environmental-friendliness in new public facilities.
During their July 2 business meeting, supervisors agreed to examine in detail – and potentially do away with – the six-year-old policy that seeks to reach a certain level of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, commonly known as LEED, on newly-constructed county buildings. LEED is a set of rating systems for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of energy efficient, or “green,” buildings. LEED certification is widely recognized as one of the premier rating systems for green design.
Supervisors expressed skepticism over whether a LEED goal was the best approach from a cost standpoint.
Per current county policy, enacted by the previous, Democratic-majority Board of Supervisors in 2008, Loudoun's Department of Transportation and Capital Construction strives “to obtain LEED Silver certification utilizing the LEED rating system through the design and development phases of public buildings,” according to county documents.
But the current all-Republican Board of Supervisors, now two-and- a-half years in, has apparently been unaware of the LEED-status policy, and discussion sparked last month when board Chairman Scott York (R-At Large) noticed preliminary plans for the forthcoming Ashburn Sheriff Substation included solar panels on the roof.
When York asked county staff why solar panels were being considered, staff responded that the panels will help reach the LEED goals set forth in the current county approach. York and several of his colleagues questioned who directed staff to work toward the LEED goals, to which they responded they were going by county policy.
Discussion ensued between supervisors and staff, revolving primarily around the expense of constructing green buildings and how long it will take for the county to recoup the savings associated with using less energy.
“It's an interesting topic to me. It's something that I'm going to continue to dig into,” York said. “The one thing I want to get clarity on … are the other options cheaper than doing the solar [panels]?”
County staff explained that each new building and site is unique. In order to achieve LEED's silver level on some buildings, they said, solar panels may be the best option, while other times it may not.
Through LEED standards, projects and structures are awarded points based on dozens of criteria, such as materials used, site selection, carbon offsets and access to transit.
Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) commented, “I don't think the goal is necessarily LEED. I know that's the policy, but I think the goal is energy efficiency, therefore cost-savings.”
Buona said that, with the county's “jam-packed” Capital Improvement Plan, the county's current policy could lead to steep up-front costs and delay much-needed facilities.
At the Ashburn substation, for instance, the county would realize a cost savings after approximately 20 years.
Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), who works at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and is involved with the energy policy, spoke critically of LEED standards and ratings mechanism.
“LEED is a brand, and it's an arbitrary target,” Letourneau said. “There are now competitors to LEED, which I think are legitimate competitors. And there have been legitimate questions about LEED, about the way the LEED formulas work and who they favor … ”
The board's finance committee is expected to study the LEED policy in the months ahead.