Energy and policy in Massachusetts

Two years ago, Massachusetts launched one of the United States’ most aggressive building energy conservation initiatives, the Accelerated Energy Program. I spoke with Jenna Ide, deputy director of the state’s Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Buildings Group, and Julian Astbury, an associate principal in Arup’s Boston office, about the initiative.

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How did the Accelerated Energy Program come about?

Jenna: The state recognizes that it’s one of the largest energy users in the commonwealth. Governor Patrick has led a number of different programs aimed at reducing energy consumption, and one of those was Executive Order 484, which was called “Leading by Example: Clean Energy and Efficient Buildings.” That was in 2007. That order required an energy retrofit or retrocommissioning of all buildings over 50,000 square feet.

Julian: The Executive Order 484 provided real clarity. I think it’s been extremely successful to provide a goal for the commonwealth to meet. Because the commonwealth is one of the largest energy users and one of the largest real estate owners, it really sets a precedent for the whole state.

The Massachusetts State Transportation Building, subject of an ongoing comprehensive energy study

How is this document clearer on this issue than other states’ or municipalities’ laws might be?

Jenna: It set percent goals of greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, water use, and renewable energy for 2012, 2020, etc. Those are very high-level goals, and pretty difficult to meet. However, they have an important impact on many aspects of agency operations and processes.

On the other end, it has very specific targets. For example, “Facilities should not be using incandescent light sources”; “The Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) shall retrofit all facilities over 100,000 square feet.”

Julian: A lot of people talk about sustainability, but actually to have a document that distills some targets and goals with such clarity is great.

A lot of people talk about sustainability, but actually to have a document that distills some targets and goals with such clarity is great

Jenna: It made a big impact, because it essentially required LEED for all new buildings or major retrofits, so that’s now become standard practice for all DCAMM.

So for many years, the goal was to make Massachusetts a leader: “We will retrofit our buildings; we’re going to retro-commission; we’re going to meet very high goals to reduce our oil consumption; we’re going to meet very high goals for reducing energy and greenhouse gases.”

Back in 2011 we started looking at the whole portfolio and how we could accelerate it. That was where the name came up: “Let’s accelerate our energy program. We’re already doing a lot; let’s accelerate it.”

The program officially launched in January 2012. The goal was to really upgrade every site, and we have about 80 million square feet in our portfolio. We identified about 700 facilities for upgrade (over 58 million applicable square feet). Basically, every facility that hadn’t been already upgraded as the start of the administration was at least targeted for evaluation.

And we wanted to improve not only through upgrades to facilities, but in making sure that those upgrades are maintained so that we improve operations — and, of course, create sustainable jobs.

How does this initiative compare to other things that are going on around the country?

Jenna: Massachusetts is a leader in energy efficiency. We’re the fourth state for LEED buildings. We are also first for energy efficiency for the third year in a row.

The accelerated program is the next big step in the administration’s efforts to improve the environment and green energy. Leading by Example was the first. And then there are a bunch of different acts that relate to not just the commonwealth facilities law — the Green Communities Act, the Global Warmings Solutions Act. We are the first state in the nation to combine the environmental and energy agencies under one cabinet secretary, demonstrating a holistic commitment to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and diversifying our energy sources, to name a few.

Some other cities and regions and states have aggressive programs, but I’m not aware of any other states — there may be some — that have said, “OK, we’re going to do it all. Let’s figure out a way to retrofit and do some upgrades at every single facility.”

Mount Wachusett Fitness and Wellness Center, site of a solar thermal project

One of the things we’ve learned a lot from is the Accelerated Bridge Program. This was another Massachusetts administration’s success story. They looked at all the bridges and said, “OK, what do we need to fix, what do we need to replace?” and really tried to develop the program in a comprehensive way, looking at all of them, not just one at a time.

So that was for a very different type of construction, but a very similar approach of looking at everything and then focusing down. Some bridges just needed a little repair; some needed full-scale replacement.

Have these programs been driven by voter interest in sustainability, or by people at top levels of state government just saying, “We’re going to do this”? Why do you think this program is happening in Massachusetts specifically?

Jenna: The state has always been a leader in energy efficiency. We’ve had one of the best utility incentive programs for years. Our energy program has been around 30 years, much longer than most states’. There’s just a very long history of environmentalism.

Also, this coincided with the push for clean energy that we’ve been seeing across the country.

MCLABoilersWide_HOR_MassachusettsDivOfCapitalAssetMgmntAndMaintenance

Existing boiler from energy study of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, Massachusetts

Within the administration we note that we’re at the end of the pipeline, so to speak. We don’t create our own energy, for the most part. We’re not one of these states that has oil and gas. So we pay the highest charges.

Energy efficiency is homegrown energy, essentially. When you use contractors and designers to reduce the load, you’re not sending most of your money out of state. This was a real initiative to say, “How do we keep the money in state?”

So it’s environmental, but it’s very much an economic decision. It’s the smart thing to do. You create more jobs locally.

It’s very much an economic decision. It’s the smart thing to do. You create more jobs locally

Can you describe any lessons learned along the way that other programs might benefit from?

Jenna: We’re a pioneer, and as we’ve been pioneering we’re also doing. There are a lot of great things about that, but it can be a challenge. I know this has also happened with the Accelerated Bridge Program and in a lot of places that have done aggressive LEED programs. You’re not going to stop construction of projects while you figure everything out.

One of the challenges has been data: how do you manage your data inputs and all of these things? There’s a huge amount of recording and tracking associated with this. That’s been something that we’ve had to learn as we go.

I think the other one is we develop new ways of doing things, and then you figure out, “Huh, maybe we could do this a better way.” Some things we can’t change because they’re law, but some things we can adapt and adjust.

But that means we have to let everyone know that we’ve changed. We’re constantly in communication with all our partners. We meet with utilities monthly to think about how we can improve coordination and maximize incentives. We meet with our vendors and contractors all the time and say, “How can we improve the program?”

Julian, has this program changed the way that you or other consultants work?

Julian: Absolutely. A nice example is, the state mandates that new buildings meet a minimum energy requirement above and beyond the LEED prerequisites. I think that’s an interesting idea that the state has used to move energy efficiency forward: clearly prioritizing energy efficiency as one of the key items that needs to be done within any new building.

Jenna: One of the things that we’ve worked with consultants on is that typically in an energy-efficiency audit you get a 15 or 20% reduction; maybe 25% at a really large energy-hog facility. But there are just some facilities you’re not going to get very high. You need to compensate lower saving opportunities with facilities where you achieve much higher savings, such as 30 to 50%.

So we’ve had to go back to our designers, such as Arup and others, to say, “All right, we need more. Go back and re-look at the buildings and say, ‘Can we get more savings, and how much is it going to cost us?’”

How does the split between existing buildings and new construction play out in this program?

Jenna: Part of this is making sure that we maintain savings both from new buildings and from existing buildings that we’re going to retain in our portfolio. For existing buildings, our main goal is these energy targets of reducing 20%, 25% or more.

A new building only stays a new building for about a year, and then it’s an existing building that needs to be updated

We’re learning a lot about how to make sure that our new buildings are maintained. A new building only stays a new building for about a year, and then it’s an existing building that needs to be updated.

As I say to everyone, we’ve never been bored in the energy program, because technology changes all the time. So a building that was new or you upgraded five, ten years ago, you can go in and upgrade it again. Lighting technology changes that rapidly. There are always opportunities.

Interview edited and condensed.

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