Even in recession, green construction grows 

Trend is welcomed by speakers from rural Alaska

by Margaret Bauman of Alaska Newspapers

Talk about a makeover that makes a body feel good and puts cash in the pocket!

Struggling construction economy or not, the momentum for green buildings is growing, because they are good for people and good for business, says Jerry Yodelson, an advocate of green building design and commercializing renewable energy systems.

“It’s good business to promote green energy buildings,” Yodelson told participants in the Business of Clean Energy in Alaska conference April 28 in Anchorage. “Green design and development are here to stay,” he said. “We’re still adding 500 new projects a month in various sizes and that’s a lot of square footage,” he said.

A case in point, said Yodelson, is New York’s famed Empire State Building, now in the midst of a $600 million, five-year renovation, with the goal of a gold rating for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) from the Green Building Council.

The much heralded project, in fact, includes remanufacturing on site all 6,500 windows, to reduce the need for air conditioning in summer and contain more heat in winter. Overall, Yodelson said, that’s an estimated annual savings of $4.4 million.

Yodelson cited numerous advantages of green buildings, which have fewer carbon emissions and are efficient in their use of energy and water, land use and materials, as facilities which have proven to make workers more productive and have fewer sick days.

Green buildings attract increased rental rates, increased occupancy, office productivity, factory productivity, retail sales and performance on school tests, he said.

They also promote decreased absenteeism, decreased carbon emissions, and decreased energy costs, hospital stays, waste management costs and water usage, he said.

In the next 25 years, 75 percent of the built environment will be new or renovated, he said.

The challenge, he said, will come not just in building new green buildings, but in greening existing structures.

“It’s not just the low hanging fruit, but the fruit on the floor that we have to pick up,” he said. “If buildings are operated better, tenants will stay in them longer.”

So, said Yodelson, jump on the bandwagon, take advantage of renewable energy technologies. “The future is green,” he said. In the parlance of hockey players, “skate where the puck is headed, not where it is,” he said.


Yodelson’s enthusiasm for the economic benefits of renewable energy systems, environmental remediation and green building design was echoed by a number of other speakers at this third annual Business of Clean Energy in Alaska conference sponsored by the Renewable Energy Alaska Project.

Among those speaking out on the importance of rural energy efficiency were Ellen Kazary, community development manager for the Rural Alaska Community Action Program; Elizabeth Moore, regional government affairs manager for NANA Regional Corp., and Carrie Sykes, business and eco- nomic development manager for the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes. Each of the entities they represent have been working to combat the increasingly high cost of living in rural Alaska rooted to the high cost of energy.

The most detailed description came from Kazary, speaking of Rural Cap’s Energy Wise program, introduced in 2009, with a goal of reducing residential energy consumption by helping people to change their behavior and teach them how to make low-cost home upgrades, in a program that also creates jobs.

The message on how to change behavior in a way that will save on energy is developed by trained local crews at energy fairs and in home visits.

To date some 7,500 people have showed up for 12 energy fairs, she said. “I had high expectations, but they just blew me away.”

“Our focus is on energy efficiency education and behavior change,” Kazary said. Trained crews spend eight hours in each home they visit, teaching occupants about how energy is used in their home and how to use less, and installing on average $300 in energy efficiency supplies. They also review energy bills and discuss potential savings. Three to six months later, they return to those homes for another assessment and to see how much energy is being saved.

While no one saved a huge amount of money, together there were significant savings, she said.

Energy Wise crews receive training and are certified in weatherization, Occupational Safety and Health Administration construction safety standards, and first aid, preparing them for many future employment opportunities.

Energy Wise complements the state’s weatherization program, which makes higher-cost physical home improvements, she said.

Rural Cap’s partners in the Energy Wise program include the Alaska Housing Finance Corp., Alaska Energy Authority, Demali Commission, Department of Energy, regional and local organizations, Renewable Energy Alaska Project, the Institute of Social and Economic Research, and the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative.

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