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Archive for January, 2011

Cities can motivate higher levels of building efficiency through building codes than LEED ordinances. On November 17th, 2010, Boston City Council unanimously approved a proposal submitted by Mayor Menino to increase building energy efficiency by 20%.  The newly adopted “stretch code” allows developers to choose which efficiency measures to install, rather than mandating specific improvements.

Thanks to the Green Communities Act of 2008, Massachusetts adopted the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC 2009) as the energy portion of the state’s building code on July 1, 2010.  Stretch code adoption is optional for cities. It is great to see that Boston is one of XXX cities that have chosen to adopt the stretch code.

Code-mandated requirements are fairly standard practices: installing high-efficiency heating systems, installing insulation correctly, keeping the building’s air seals tight, and adding efficient light fixtures and bulbs.

According to Marc Breslow, Director of Transportation and Buildings Policy:

Independent economic modeling done for the state estimates that, for a typical 2,700 square    foot single-family home, building to the stretch code specs will reduce electricity and heating         costs by about $500 a year over the IECC 2009 base energy code, while only adding $130 to            annual mortgage costs – a substantial net savings beginning the first year of home ownership.

Other American cities are adopting similar and even more aggressive green building practices. For instance Los Angeles, in 2008, adopted the Los Angeles Green Building Ordinance , which requires that developers meet the US Green Building Council’s Energy and Design (LEED) standards for every new development. This includes the Private Sector Green Building Plan which applies LEED standards to all private sector construction.

While the new building requirements of Boston, Los Angeles and other leading “green” cities are noteworthy, it is important to remember that the biggest gains to be made in building efficiency are in existing buildings.

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Like many other cities and states, Boston is focusing job creation and training efforts on green industry.  First, Green Jobs Boston seeks to coordinate government sponsored green training programs with its efforts to create green jobs.  For instance, it seeks to align efficiency and weatherization training with Renew Boston, the city’s energy efficiency retrofit program.  Also, in developing Boston’s Innovation District, the city hopes to attract more green business. As mentioned in BRA post Oasys Water Lands in Innovation District, the district is already home to several cleantech businesses including Oasys Water, Next Step Living, and FastCap Systems.

As Boston continues to work to build its green industry, Massachusetts just learned it will lose the Evergreen Solar manufacturing plant in Devens.  Evergreen Solar is a developer and manufacturer of PV modules and solar cells and also has plants in Midland, MI and a new plant in Wuhan, China, where the company sent its Massachusetts panel assembly operation in 2010.  In this month’s announcement, Evergreen solar reported that the Deven’s plant will close because of continued downward pressure on price, increasingly competitive Chinese solar products (due partially to generous Chinese subsidies), and a believed “disadvantaged” American climate for manufacturing.  This announcement comes after a November report that the company’s “net loss for the third quarter of 2010 was $27.2 million. . . .”  Also, just weeks ago, the company instituted a 1-for-6 reverse stock split that reduced the company’s shares from 209 million to approximately 35 million.  Despite receiving $58 million in subsidies from Massachusetts to build the Deven’s plant, Evergreen Solar was unable to thrive in Massachusetts.

The up and down experience with solar manufacturing in Massachusetts is not an unusual story.  For Austin, Texas, the story recently moved in the opposite direction.  Despite considerable effort to attract solar manufacturers, Austin only seemed able to lose them.  In 2009, New Mexico lured Solar Array from Austin with deep subsidies.  Also, Austin lost wind farm developer Renewable Energy Systems to Colorado, where the company is developing a large wind farm. But things are looking up now. In December 2010, Sun Power, a manufacturer of solar cells, panels, and systems, announced the expansion of its corporate operations into Austin, which will create 450 jobs over the next four years.  To undertake the expansion, the company received $2.5 millions dollars from the state of Texas and a $900,000 grant from Austin. This is considerably less than the $58 million Massachusetts invested in Evergreen.  In addition to Sun Power, Austin has been home to the thin film solar module manufacturer HelioVolt since 2001.  Time will tell if the solar sector takes hold in Austin.

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The Longfellow Bridge

The nation’s transportation sector accounts for about a third of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, which makes it a prime target for emission reduction strategies. In dense cities in particular, biking and walking are realistic transportation alternatives to automobiles.

An upcoming—and much needed—refurbishment of the Longfellow bridge will provide Boston with an opportunity to make biking and walking both a safer and more viable choice. The project will be financed from the state’s $3 billion Accelerated Bridge Program, a fund created to repair crumbling public structures.

Massachusetts highway officials are considering a major renovation of the bridge that would reduce the number of automobile traffic lanes, making the bridge more accessible to bike and foot traffic. Since the Boston-bound side of the bridge sees more traffic than the Cambridge-bound side, the latter is where the proposed changes would take place. The plan is to reduce this side of the bridge from two car lanes to a single one and use the remaining space to provide a lane for walkers and bikers. This plan—and a number of alternative proposals—were generated by a state task force. The task force included members from  Massachusetts General Hospital, TD Garden, WalkBoston, and the Charles River Watershed Association.

We’ll keep you posted when transit officials pick a design early this year. Before that happens, the state must submit its Environmental Assessment to the Federal Highway Administration.  Other cities have been working to become more bike-friendly as well. Portland and Minneapolis are the nation’s leaders in bicycle ridership and commuting. However, other cities are also generating their own replicable strategies. The City of Chicago, the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center and the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation have collaborated to put together a Bike Lane Design Guide. This document shows how municipalities overcome the design challenges associated with integrating bike travel into busy urban traffic.

Despite these efforts, US cities still have a ways to go (via http://bostonbiker.org/tag/bike-lane/). Clearly, public buy-in and motorist respect for bike lanes is an essential hurdle to overcome. So is ensuring proper lane demarcation. Take a look at some examples of bike lanes in other cities, via StreetsBlog.org :

Montreal:

Notice the physical separation from traffic in this Montreal bicycle lane, as well as the buffered, two-way lane below (also in Montreal).

Germany goes even further by integrating bike lanes into part of the sidewalk, complete with a difference in color for clear indication of bike traffic (in Berlin):

 

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In October, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) received a $4 million federal grant to advance smart growth principles that “promote development while protecting the environment, encouraging social and economic equity, and conserving energy and water resources.”  The grant is part of the $100,000,000 Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program that is run by HUD in collaboration with the EPA and U.S. DOT with the goal of empowering regional planning efforts that promote sustainable zoning and land use.

The MAPC, an organization representing 101 communities within Metro Boston, will use the HUD grant to fund its new regional development plan MetroFuture, which is designed to promote smart growth through compact development, focused economic growth, and coordinated transportation alternatives.  This plan was designed by the MAPC with the assistance of over 5,000 residents and organizations through public surveys, workshops, and meetings.  After more than 5 years of development, MetroFuture was adopted by the MAPC in 2008 to replace its previous regional plan, MetroPlan.

To oversee the HUD grant, the MAPC established the Metro Boston Consortium for Sustainable Communities, which is a group comprised of state agencies, advocacy and business organizations, academic institutions and 55 municipalities within Metro Boston.  As a consortium member, the Northeastern Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy is helping to develop tools and indicators to implement MetroFuture and measure its success.  In particular, Northeastern Professor Barry Bluestone is working to develop the regional housing plan, while Professor Stephanie Pollack is developing transportation performance metrics.

Professor Pollack explains that MetroFuture’s major challenge is encouraging towns to plan together to institute a regional plan.  The consortium’s objective is to build partnerships between towns, universities, and professionals across Metro Boston to overcome this challenge.  Professor Pollack explains that incentives for towns to collaborate will include technical assistance, education on sustainable planning, and meeting places to start collaboration.  The $4 million grant has provided momentum to start creating the tools and collaboration necessary to implement MetroFuture.

One of MetroFuture’s primary strategies will be to improve Metro Boston’s transportation system by increasing transit options and focusing more on bikes and walking.  The MAPC sees an excessive focus on auto-oriented projects like the Big Dig.  This smart growth approach will increase mobility, decrease GHG emissions and congestion, and create better health outcomes.

MetroFuture’s sustainable transportation plan marks a shift from focusing on moving people from point A to point B to providing people access to what they need (a shift in focus from mobility to accessibility).  Currently, the consortium is creating indicators to measure whether accessibility improves following MetroFuture’s implementation.  One simple example of measuring accessibility is Walkscore.com, which enables users to calculate an address’s “walkability” along with its accessibility to public transportation through transit-score.  Professor Pollack explained that the consortium will work to complete the indicators over the next year, and then start implementing MetroFuture’s plan over the next two to three years.  MetroFuture has an overall goal “to better the lives of the people who live and work in Metropolitan Boston between now and 2030.”

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