Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Energy
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8/24/18  8:43 pm
Commenter: Monica Rokicki, Better Building Works, LLC

2018 Virginia Energy Plan

My name is Monica Rokicki and I own Better Building Works LLC. I’m submitting these comments as a concerned citizen, board member of the Cabell Brand Center, and small business owner. I started my company due to my recognition that the business as usual architecture engineering and construction sector was not addressing climate change - nor energy efficiency - beyond what the code requires (which is as bad as a building can be without being unfit to occupy). My background includes over 20 years in architecture and environmental science and research.

An energy plan, to be effective, should have as its primary function to build a bridge to take us from where we are now - in a world with over 400 ppm CO2 and unpredictable energy availability and increasing costs - to a world where climate change adaptation and mitigation is underway in earnest, where energy systems are stable and cost is controlled, and resilient communities are not at the whims of extreme weather, energy availability and the potential for stranded assets which could wipe out 401ks and other investments.

I am specifically addressing here the Commonwealth’s goal of achieving 10% Energy reduction by 2020 (btw 2020 is just around the corner so all of these points should be seen as near-term actions): 

There are six specific points I would like to make:

1. Small companies, small buildings.

A.  Energy Efficiency (EE) methodologies must go beyond ESCOs or so-called, performance contractors, who typically ‘solve’ EE issues with tech instead of a building-as-a-system approach. This will expand the local economic impact of EE to include small, local companies in rural areas of Virginia, where the lion's share of our economic output resides.

B. EE must include buildings less than 20,000 sf, which amount to the vast majority of individual buildings, especially those buildings in rural areas like in SW VA - but also accounting for the majority of buildings inside urban areas. According to CBECS and the EIA, more than 99% of all buildings in the Commonwealth are smaller than 50,000 sf and 90% of all buildings (including residential and commercial buildings) are less than 10,000 square feet. This will be necessary to achieve market transformation toward a clean energy economy that harnesses the superior return on investment potential of energy efficiency. These are also the buildings that small, local companies can more effectively address than larger so-called "Performance Contractors".

2. Building Science and EE Links:

A. EE must be linked to Heath and Indoor Air Quality via standards within the building code for both existing and new buildings. The only way to do this is to use building science - that is - trained building scientists and qualified energy auditors. I have an extensive background in the Architecture and Engineering field and can attest to the serious lack of building science understanding in these sectors, which is exacerbated by the silo-ization of these professions. Use building scientists to build bridges between these silos - and to connect them to real, local markets, contractors, realtors and building owners.

B. EE must also be seen as a major methodology for maintaining clean, fresh water for all Virginians. Water used to provide energy for a typical home is around six times the amount of water used by that home for cooking, bathing and cleaning. Water used by businesses can be significantly more. Any EE data collected should be accompanied with their associated water savings. For example, a low flow showerhead and pipe insulation saves energy by reducing the load on a hot water heater - but the water savings are enormous at point of use. Water savings at the plant (source) can also be quantified, based upon the local water use by that source per kWh.

3. Building Benchmarking at point of sale or lease will drive the market, as well. Buyers and Lessee’s must understand their risk, which will help them succeed at the same time as helping to achieve the Commonwealth’s goal of a 10% reduction by 2020. The Appraisal Institute's Green Addendum is leveraging higher building value for those homes that we have retrofitted because we use a DOE approved energy modeling and verification methodology. On one home, we saw an increase in appraisal value of more than $100,000 - due to the different comp set. That same home appraised for $100K less in the same neighborhood when the Green Addendum was not taken into account, because the comps were for nearby, un-retrofitted homes. (As a datum, the different appraisals were in the ~$450K to ~$550K range). Note that the Appraisal Institute is now allowing building scientists to fill out the Addendum in advance of underwriting for both residential and commercial buildings. See the July 19, 2018 press release here about the appraisal addendum newest guideance: for more information.

4. EE just be prioritized as a necessary FIRST step in assessing any site for renewables. EE plus Solar PV generates the highest ROI and makes every watt installed go farther but EE should be incentivized first. It is also available to all buildings and sites - not just to those that are suitable for renewables.

5. EE is a Risk Mitigation Strategy. Climate change, volatile energy prices and uncertainty in the markets - not to mention the potential for stranded fossil fuel assets - means the EE is a sound fiscal strategy in addition to the high return on investment that it offers (when done using building science and data-driven diagnostics and verification).

6. Resilience. EE will make communities more able to cope with sudden weather events and power outages. A better building envelope holds heat (and conditioned air) longer. Lower energy footprints for communities mean that power plants have more capacity and avoid costly service line extensions. Local economies are bolstered by higher disposable income. And low-income families have less exposure to high winter and summer energy bills.

7. Finally, Energy efficiency must be seen as an energy resource. It is cheaper over the lifetime of the conservation measures and has the potential to revitalize local economies over the long term via excellent jobs and ongoing existing buildings upgrades and optimization.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my comments and suggestions. Please, feel free to call on me if you have questions or if I can assist to make energy efficiency a valued, recognized resource to keep Virginians healthier, more resilient, wealthier and prepared for the future.

Monica Rokicki, LEED AP BD+C, O+M, BPI, WELL, Better Building Works LLC 540 238 3845


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