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Loudoun County reconsidering ‘green’ energy policy

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.

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This is just embarrassing.  The rest of the country and world understand why we need solar, and it’s a business sector that is growing exponentially. The cost of solar technology has come way down. Energy from the sun is free; fossil fuel energy will just get more and more expensive. Loudoun and Virginia are being left far behind.

These yahoos fiddle as the world burns.  I’m sure their children will appreciate this commitment to pollution and this pathetic leadership.

The Koch brothers, Americans for Prosperity—who are walking Loudoun neighborhoods with their propaganda, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the fossil fuel lobby must be very happy with their henchmen on the board.  Too bad for the rest of us taxpayers.

And could York sound any dumber?  He was the chair when that policy was put into place.

LEED is not a silver bullet but it is the standard in North America for now and has enough past project data and success stories. The standard is improving, now version 3. To get a building LEED certified is just a start.
The BOS needs to be educated in LEED benefits and the holistic approach of building efficiency and energy savings. Maybe the members talk to some ESCOs or the GSA and see what long term successes are possible.
What I think is missing is accountability and published performance numbers how the BOS and the county is managing their buildings.
Many politicians think only about how they can get re-elected. That short term strategy conflicts with solving long term issues like climate change, the county’s water consumption, ROI or TCO of renewable energy investments.
There have been positive efforts mostly initiated in the past by a few individuals or some BOS members (like the Green Business Challenge). But I have yet to see a BOS embracing renewables or methods like PACE as a long term strategy.
Like telling residents and businesses that PV solar can reduce their property taxes and can give an ROI after 6 years without upfront costs?
And lets not just blame the BOS: Many residents and businesses lack knowledge and interest in renewables, recycling and protecting the environment and increasing property taxes and water bills. That is why the work of organisations like Sustainable Loudoun and others is so important!

“Structures will be half way through their life expectancies before any savings can be seen”

Recouping upfront costs is exactly the purpose. In your widely speculative example, those “structures” SAVE the county money for the last half of their lives, after having already saved enough to pay for the upfront expense.

If the Supervisors are worried that building cost-saving “LEED” building might delay other projects, perhaps the $19.3 million dollar shooting range should be at the top of the delay list.

LEED buildings actually use more average energy than non-LEED certified buildings.  http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/03/09/environment-carbon-climate-change-pollution-column/6027923/

This policy was no doubt implemented by the McGimsey all energy issues all the time BOS in 2008-2011.

Green Energy is a costly Capital intensive venture. The fundamental truth is that Solar Panels and Wind Turbines can never compete on cost against a “ready made fuel” like Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas. All you need to do is light a match to release the energy of fossil fuel. Green Energy requires expensive and inefficient widgets to harness an energy source.

The only Green Energy worth investing in are GenIV Nuclear Reactors. Everything else is a farce.

The Board of Supervisors don’t know County policy? I guess the only qualification to become a Supervisor is to have an (R) after your name.

If construction of County facilities is designed to have a 50 year life, and energy savings pays for itself after 20 years, they the LEED policy is appropriate.

Is a revised BOS policy going to mandate incandescent lightbulbs?

I applaud the BOS for recognizing that LEED is a waste of good money in pursuit of minimal to no benefit.  Structures will be half way through their life expectancies before any savings can be seen. Contracted planners and designers of County buildings are more interested in getting awards and recognition within their respected disciplines by stretching LEED principals to their economical and practical limits than they are in delivering a functional, durable, safe, and usable facility.  LEEDS requirements trump practical common sense in many of the newer County building already on line.  Thank you BOS for moving toward a draw down of the LEED approach to public construction and for saving money.

Looks like they are at least not being short sighted on the topic; they are looking to see if the upfront cost has long term savings.

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