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EPA's green buildings list ranks D.C. area No. 2 in nation

By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Perhaps Washington is an efficient place after all.

The D.C. area took the No. 2 spot in a nationwide survey of metropolitan regions with energy-efficient buildings, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which plans to publish the results Tuesday.

Washington's second-place ranking for 2009 is a boost from the previous year, when the area placed fourth on the EPA list. The region now has 204 commercial buildings that have earned the government's "Energy Star" rating, up from 136 in 2008. Los Angeles has been at the top of the list since the EPA began the survey in 2008; the city claimed 293 energy-efficient buildings for the most recent count.

"This will come as a surprise to many people outside of Washington because they don't think of Washington as a green city," said Cliff Majersik, executive director of the D.C.-based Institute for Market Transformation, a nonprofit group focused on energy-efficient building practices.

A new District law promoting green building practices, coupled with recent debate on Capitol Hill about raising energy efficiency, may have helped motivate area property owners to install energy-saving devices. A federal law, mandating that government agencies give preferred status to energy-efficient buildings, may have also helped to motivate some property owners.

"We think that discussions about legislation raised awareness and was a contributor to the activity in D.C.," said Maura Beard, director of communications for the EPA's building program. The Washington area's energy-saving moves reduced nearly $62 million from energy bills for the year, she said.

The EPA program compares a building's energy consumption with that of others in its type; those rated in the top 25 percent qualify for the "Energy Star" rating. The program has existed for a decade, though the agency only started tallying such a list in recent years.

Majersik said that the city's high ranking could be attributable to a District law passed in 2008 that requires building owners to publicly disclose their property's energy costs.

Such laws are still relatively new, he said. A similar measure passed in California requires that such information be disclosed at a property's point of sale.

Beard also credited Loudoun County Public Schools for Washington's place on the list. Some 25 of the school system's 76 buildings have earned the EPA's "Energy Star" rating.

Wayde Byard, a spokesman for the Loudoun schools, said that the system has a small team of experts who track energy usage. Over the years, he said, the system has reduced energy costs by $34.1 million by using devices that, for example, automatically shut off lights in unused rooms.

"After a few years, it's free," Byard said of the Loudoun schools' energy practices. "There were start-up costs incurred in the early '90s, but since then, it's been all gravy."

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