Month: December, 2014
Domestic energy sources have been subsidized in the U.S. for almost as long as we’ve been an independent nation, dating all the way back to 1789 when our new leaders first implemented a tax on the sale of British coal. Today, the debate surrounding federal support for the energy industry is as contentious as ever. The months leading up to Congress’s passing of the Fiscal Year 2015 Omnibus Appropriations Bills have been filled with an excess of rhetoric, half-truths, and whole-lies regarding the different ways that our government supports the energy sector. Instead of adding more fuel to the fire, here we will present empirical data detailing where and how much our government subsidizes energy and the future implications of federal support of the renewable energy sector.
The table below is the result of a study that analyzed the distribution of subsidies among the many ways in which the federal government has supported energy development for the entire industry from 1950-2010. The study estimated that federal support for the energy industry over that 60-year time period totaled over $837 billion (in 2010 dollars). Their findings show that the coal, oil, nuclear, and gas industries have been the major beneficiaries, having received close to 80% ($666.5B) of federal subsidies since 1950; while hydro, renewables and geothermal comprise the remaining 20% ($170.7B).
While these numbers seem to tell us that government energy subsidies heavily favor fossil fuel production, things start to look differently when we dig a little deeper. When we take into account the amount of energy that is actually being generated relative to the amount of subsidization received, renewables in the U.S. technically receive 25 times the subsidy that fossil fuels do. In the United States in 2010, in order to generate a billion BTUs of energy, the renewable industry received $1,724, while the fossil fuel industry received just $68.72. To that end, it would appear that renewables are more federally-favored than we thought. Considering the fact that we are comparing markets that are in completely different states of maturity, the future of the renewable sector may be more dependent in its ability to match the fossil fuel industry’s infrastructure, rather than federal subsidization.
Even still, federal support of the renewable energy sector is working. The cost of renewable energy has dropped dramatically since the 1970s, especially over the last 5 years, as we are now buying solar and wind energy for prices lower than coal. As for future policy, the road ahead looks positive but it would be a mistake to expect drastic reform in the ways that we subsidize our energy in the near term. One thing is for certain; the U.S. has an opportunity to deliver reliable, affordable, and environmentally friendly energy that we can’t afford to miss.
We applaud the thrust of David Bench’s November 10 article on ArchDaily.com “The Other ‘Green Way’: Why Can’t New York Build More Quality Affordable Housing?”, but take issue with some of his conclusions. Via Verde has been a smashing success in delivering high quality affordable housing that’s also remarkably sustainable, and New York should be building more quality affordable housing like it. But the fact that more could be done shouldn’t blind us to the quality affordable housing development going on around us. Bench opens with, “Two years after the completion of Grimshaw and Dattner’s acclaimed Via Verde (“Green Way”), no successors have even been proposed for this supposed model for the design and construction of new affordable housing.” Not so!
For those of you who think nothing innovative has been happening in quality and sustainable affordable housing, keep reading. Sustainable affordable housing is on the rise even as rental apartment construction in New York City hit a 27 year high last week. One needs to look no further than the La Central development on the Bronxchester site literally next door to Via Verde. La Central is a 985 unit, 5 building complex that is 100% affordable. Developed by Hudson, BRP, The Kretchmer Companies, and Common Ground with FXFowle and MHG as architects, La Central will draw upon many of the celebrated features of Via Verde including a green roof and photovoltaic (PV) array over 5 times the size of Via Verde’s. La Central pushes innovation further by incorporating the PV array into a resilient microgrid complete with batteries and cogeneration – all of which pays for itself and enhances the economics of the development while providing tangible electrical and HVAC services to residents in the event of an outage. The courtyard and rooftop landscape design by Future Green Studio stands to continue the ribbon of landscaped attractive outdoor space that began at Via Verde. Not convinced?
La Central is far from the only innovator – Bright Power’s roster of projects includes affordable housing projects pursuing the Passive House Standard, which typically reduces energy use by 80% when compared to typical code-minimum developments. Via Verde and Dumont Green, two icons of energy efficiency of the past decade on which Bright Power worked, comparatively saved 30% and 26% respectively. Or look to Essex Crossing, a mega development currently under design located in the heart of New York’s Lower East Side that will include 1000 units of housing, of which 50% is affordable. Essex Crossing won an Affordable Green Communities award at Greenbuild 2014 in recognition of the 9-building neighborhood development’s groundbreaking achievements in establishing a vibrant and equitable neighborhood, and is projected to be 20-30% more energy efficient than the typical building under today’s codes. These are just a few of the dozens of projects Skye Gruen, our Director of New Construction & Sustainability, and her team here at Bright Power are actively working on in an effort to to improve the quality and sustainability of new affordable housing development.
While high quality and sustainable building qualities is seeping into the fabric of New York’s affordable housing development, building better affordable housing is just the beginning. The key to sustainable buildings isn’t just building them right – it’s about tracking their energy use from the start and proactively managing them throughout their lifecycle, too. We disagree with David Bench – sustainable, affordable housing is getting built. The real challenge – a challenge Bright Power is tackling now – is how to make sure today’s cutting-edge buildings continue to perform after construction wraps.