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Arlington's Energy Plan
September 17, 2010
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We are joined today with a guest post from our colleague, Phil Keating, with a timely report on Arlington County’s newly released Energy Plan issued by the Arlington County Community Energy and Sustainability Task Force. In addition to being Chair of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, Phil is a member of the Task Force and has provided us with some analysis and suggestions:

The Task Force released its draft Energy Plan on September 17, 2010. The plan, truly developed by a group of consultants led by Peter Garforth with input from Task Force members, County Government staff, and other interested parties, is scheduled for a public hearing Thursday, October 21 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at Wakefield House School in Arlington. Additional public presentations are scheduled and e-mail comments are being accepted. The schedule for the Task Force contemplates that the Arlington County Board will consider the Energy Plan and move to adopt it in the February to April 2011 time frame.

The draft Energy Plan uses 2007 emissions data as a baseline. The Plan includes a quite aggressive goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions levels by two-thirds from 2007 levels within the next 40 years. Data contained in the plan highlights that commercial building use is significantly higher than either residential or transportation so businesses can expect a disparate impact if the plan is fully implemented. The Plan envisions that the Arlington County Board and the Office of the County Manager will develop and enforce aggressive efficiency requirements, including:

  • For renovations, 30% increased efficiency for residential and 50% for commercial construction
  • For new construction, 30% increased efficiency above current code expectations
  • Submission of a detailed narrative on how projects plan to achieve the goals
  • Developers willing to commit to agreed levels of energy performance, “may be allowed incentives.”

The Plan further calls for migration to District-Energy (DE) in high-density areas starting in 2015. Interestingly, the Plan states, “The legal framework for the DE utility will be created immediately with clear business rules, along with access to the appropriate utility expertise, capital depth, and operating understandings with the County, Washington Gas (WGL), and Dominion Virginia Power (DVP). .. The County will create planning and construction guidelines for DE preferred areas including connection norms to make buildings DE-ready as an early implementation action following approval of the CEP.” While some specific areas under unified ownership may currently be ripe for a DE approach, these provisions of the Plan should rightly give the business and development community significant hesitation as potential threats to an already complex approval process.

As stated above, the real work with respect to the Energy Plan starts now and, as the expression goes, “the devil is in the details.” In the case of the draft Energy Plan, the essential details are not being addressed at this stage and are being deferred to County Government staff and, possibly, groups of individuals appointed by the County Board. From the perspective of the business community, including the broader development and real estate sector, there are significant concerns about the implementation and enforcement phases of the Energy Plan. These include the unstated issues of cost, the decisions that need to be made as to who will bear the cost, the economic and marketplace viability of the stated goals in the time frames contemplated, the impact on the rights of property owners, and the enforcement mechanisms that will be adopted by the County Government. In cases where actions are being taken in the interest of the general public good, the position we are advocating at the Arlington Chamber of Commerce is that the general public should bear the expense of that action and not just the business community.

We look forward to future commentary and discussion regarding this topic, both in the public process and here at the blog. For more detailed comments and reaction, please feel free to review my longer treatment of the Plan.

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    Timothy Hughes is the managing shareholder of Bean, Kinney & Korman. He also represents clients in construction and commercial litigation, as well as corporate, contracts and general business matters. With over 20 years ...