The District of Columbia City Council passed a bill on December 5, 2006,  to require private developers to follow the standards of the US Green Building Council (USGBC), which would make the district the first major city to have such building requirements. The bill would force all commercial development of 50,000 square feet or more, whether new construction or renovation of old buildings, to meet the USGBC standards by 2012.

The USGBC Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards are unique in a way. For the most part, the standards don’t mandate specific features, rather they work on a points system, and points are awarded to a project based on categories such as site selection, energy efficiency and materials. To be certified LEED, a building must be awarded a certain number of points.

Contractors would be able to meet these requirements by installing waterless toilets or recycled carpet, but one of the biggest upgrades would be energy efficiency. The initial costs are high, but energy efficiency pays for itself in the long run with a lower electric bill.

Although Washington would be the first major city to require certification for private construction, it would not be the first local government to have such requirements. Eighteen states and 11 federal agencies use the standards for their own projects, said Michelle Moore, spokeswoman for the Green Building Council. Pasadena, Calif., adopted the standards in March 2006, and Montgomery County, Md., adopted them in November 2006.

Seemingly in coordination, George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), Montgomery County Council president, authored legislation that mandates use of green energy designs in public and private buildings that exceed 10,000 square feet. Buildings must reach at least a silver rating.

“Global warming is the greatest challenge facing our generation, and buildings are responsible for a substantial percentage of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Leventhal.

Great Seneca Creek Elementary School,  a Montgomery County public school in Germantown, Md., already uses a green heating and cooling system that could serve as a model for incorporating similar systems in other county buildings.

Under the Montgomery County legislation, building developers would have to adhere to the LEED standards. The law would take effect for private buildings one year after the county implementing regulations are finalized, but not later than Sept. 1, 2008.

Both bills are expected to pass, so look out for heightened electrical efficiency work in Washington, D.C., and the surrounding metro area.     EC