LEED To Rate Solar-Powering Your City: Worthless

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Or they will… unless you weigh in: California has a requirement that all new buildings be zero carbon by 2020; every electron a building uses must come from power generated onsite. Obama plans the same requirement nationwide by 2030.

So you would think that to meet their new neighborhood certification, on-site renewable energy would be a LEED requirement, not just an option. But it won’t be. What’s worse, it will be worth a measly 3 points out of the total 110 possible points to get LEED certification.  But you can change that.

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Recently LEED started their pilot program to certify neighborhoods. They have opened up their plans in a 50 day open comment period for review of the new neighborhood certification. Until this point, LEED has certified only buildings. But now, while they are “open to comment”, is the time to ask them to make a change — before a feeble standard is enshrined in convoluted plans that achieve little.

Presently, zero carbon or “On-Site Renewable Energy Sources” is more than half-way down the LEED list and can only garner only 3 out of the possible 110 points. So even if your neighborhood was 100% solar powered, you could only get 3 points. Or 100% geothermal powered, etc.

There are so many ways that entire neighborhoods can make renewable electricity. These tested technologies are in current use and are widely available now for neighborhoods:

1. Solar roofs on all big buildings, solar thermal outside town.

2. A wind turbine on the edge of town.

3. District heating: (CHP) combined heat and electric power. A boiler heats water or (or even better material) that turns a turbine to make electricity and the still warm waste water can be circulated throughout a neighborhood for heat. A CHP can be fueled by almost any biomass waste; from sewage to pig parts and from any cellulosic waste from walnut shells to woodchips.

4. Geothermal power in the Western and Southwestern states.

Several more are on the cusp of wide application.

1. Genetically engineered bacteria and nano-engineered algae fuels to replace natural gas fired electric power plants.

2. New non-invasive watermills – if you’re by a river.

3. Tidal or wave power – if you’re near the ocean.

4. Enhanced geothermal systems will soon be nationwide (EGS is what Google just invested $11 million in) because they can go deep enough to where it’s hot all over the world.

5. Solar thermal – normally out in a desert; has just been tested on a building. Why not?

If you want to weigh in on LEED’s strangely low weighting of self-powered buildings within neighborhoods, here’s their comment form. It is possible to improve LEED for neighborhoods. Weigh in.

But be polite. They just don’t know as much as you do about renewable energy.

Photo credit: Texas Finn via Flikr Creative Commons License

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