When the federal government publishes its list of Energy Star cities each year, municipalities in Hampton Roads are typically nowhere to be found. But not this year.
For the first time, the region cracked Top 25 in the list of metropolitan areas with the most energy-efficient buildings, as tracked and reported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Hampton Roads barely made it, coming in at No. 25, behind Riverside, Calif. Still, local officials were enthused by the announcement this week and say they expect to climb higher in coming years, now knowing the keys to higher scores.
“I see no reason why we can’t get to the top,” said Lori Herrick, energy management administrator for Virginia Beach.
Overall, for the fifth straight year, Los Angeles finished atop the 2012 roster, followed by Washington, Chicago and New York. Hampton Roads was the only metro area in Virginia to make the grade and one of the few regions in the South – Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., were the others – to do so, according to EPA statistics.
Of the 67 buildings certified last year as worthy of Energy Star status, almost half were in Virginia Beach. The rest were scattered throughout the region: seven in Norfolk, seven in Chesapeake, one in Portsmouth, eight in Williamsburg, among others.
Schools were the buildings most often recognized locally for their energy performance, a testament to how many administrators, especially in Virginia Beach, have made energy efficiency and green architecture priorities when building or repairing schools.
According to the EPA, the 67 buildings saved a combined $4.1 million in energy costs and prevented greenhouse gas emissions equal to that of 3,700 homes.
Herrick and other energy coordinators have discovered, though, that recognition doesn’t come merely by improving buildings. It’s about outreach and getting more building owners simply to participate in the EPA’s program.
“We approached churches, hotels and restaurants last year” about signing up for the Energy Star program and tracking their own performance, Herrick said. The more buildings counting their electricity, the more likely they will make the list.
The program is conducted online for free. But to get started, an owner of a commercial or residential building must provide some detailed information: two years’ worth of utility bills, the number of computers on the premises, and the hours the structures are open for public use, if any.
After the numbers are tallied, if the total score is 75 or higher – meaning the building performs better than 75 percent of similar buildings across the country – the Energy Star label is won. But before full certification is granted, a professional engineer or architect must verify the numbers and the supporting data.
Herrick said Virginia Beach is one of the few localities in Virginia that offers a local property tax break to buildings that attain Energy Star certification.
The 67 certified buildings in Hampton Roads are an odd assortment. While mostly schools, the group includes supermarkets, the aging federal courthouse in Norfolk, the Virginia Beach Visitors Center, a Target store in Chesapeake and the Dominion and First Virginia towers in downtown Norfolk.
“They don’t have to be new buildings,” Herrick said. “Old buildings can just as well be efficient with a little work.”
Scott Harper, 757-446-2340, firstname.lastname@example.org