West Windsor continues to be an innovator in “going green” as the township is the first New Jersey municipality to participate in a new initiative spearheaded by the Rutgers University Center for Green Building. Council passed a resolution confirming the partnership (with no cost to the township) at its meeting on Monday, October 1.

Jennifer Senick from the Rutgers Center for Green Building (RCGB) at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy made a pitch for the township’s participation at the September 13 meeting of the West Windsor Environmental Commission meeting. Rutgers was seeking municipalities to work with as a “pilot community to try some new policies in the area of energy efficiency.” West Windsor’s reputation for being a sustainable, progressive community stood out to RCGB. Before passing its resolution, Council was assured that there are only positives to be gained from participating.

“The university comes armed with a U.S. Department of Energy grant, so there would be no expenditure from the township and no formal contractual obligation would be entered into,” said Environmental Commission Chairman Michael Hornsby, who lives at 978 Alexander Road.

With West Windsor’s climate action plan (WW-P News, July 6) and Sustainable Jersey certification in hand, Hornsby outlined the township’s next chance to pioneer for change.

“West Windsor would pilot some new initiatives to promote the reduction of carbon emissions from township commercial buildings — examples would be examining green building codes and perhaps have a green building recognition program,” he said.

According to Senick, the overall goal of the project is to reduce annual energy use in commercial buildings in the greater Philadelphia region by 20 percent by 2020. She said the project is focused on existing commercial buildings, which includes multi-family buildings over four stories high. Only smaller residential housing is excluded from consideration.

She said the Department of Energy’s plan is to use the greater Philadelphia region as an incubator for reducing commercial facilities’ energy consumption. Senick says the DOE will later study policies that potentially can come out of it to be disseminated throughout the U.S.

“It’s the equivalent of a new Department of Energy laboratory for decreasing energy use,” Senick said.

The D.O.E. initiative is a $129 million, five-year initiative involving universities and companies as well as interested private parties. RCGB has funding to provide technical resources — staff time and technical support — to help the township and inform business owners on how to attain money through state programs that exist.

Senick said some of the green initiatives had come into play in West Windsor through the Environmental Commission’s recent work to implement the Sustainable Jersey program. Now the focus shifts to ways of involving private sector owners of commercial buildings.

Senick says the focus for the initiative came from the fact that the building sector has been slower to decrease its energy consumption than other sectors (such as automotive, aircraft, and locomotive) and the Department of Energy outlined the need to appeal to builders.

“What this recognizes is that the part of the country we are talking about is largely built-out: there’s a large existing building stock and a lot of it is very inefficient, and there are a lot of barriers to improving energy efficiency in these buildings. Those barriers are market-based, policy-based, and technologically-based,” Senick said.

According to Senick, Rutgers’ Center for Green Building was one of “the original investigators” to succeed in receiving the grant from the Department of Energy. She said areas that fall under “policy markets of behavior” are Rutgers’ responsibility — occupancy behavior, building evaluation, simulation modeling, and informing policies in the region.

Elements pertaining to the interior of commercial properties, such as indoor lighting and fixtures inside the building, are the primary focus points of the Rutgers initiative. Township landscape architect Dan Dobromilsky asked Senick to specify some of the incentives that are in place for commercial property owners and operators, and a “Green Leadership recognition program” was her first response.

“For example, what we would do is help design a publicity program for West Windsor and a recognition program for business owners. We would help develop nice, glossy case studies using successful commercial properties and help publicize that, as well as West Windsor as a place that recognizes the importance of improvements in the private sector as necessary to really move the needle,” she said.

Jennifer Souder, a project manager with the RCGB, said that in the last week of September some graduate students from the Bloustein School came to West Windsor and worked with the environmental commission to identify 274 commercial properties that could fit the bill. Souder added that now the focus will shift to identifying the multi-family buildings in the township.

Senick has high hopes for West Windsor. “One of the recommendations was that if an existing commercial building was being renovated more than 50 percent of its square footage, let’s see if we can get that building up to an EnergyStar portfolio manager’s score of 75, meaning it would be in the top 25 percent of other buildings that are its cohort (same type or built in the same year). In pursuing something like this, we would have to tell private sector owners about the incentives available to help them get there,” she said.

Senick advised that a municipality such as West Windsor can help educate builders who might come in for a permit. “It’s actually a service to tell them that for what they are planning to do, they could get money for it, especially if what they are doing can be featured as a success,” she said.

Senick said the Department of Energy was particularly interested in “The New Jersey Green Building Manual,” a document produced by her division at Rutgers three years ago. Now Rutgers will put its guidelines into effect and try to scope out the modeling of green building.

“One objective is to see how the green building manual recommendations would play out and whether it would cost more or less to implement. We also have been given license and funding to try out policies with some forward-thinking and innovative municipalities as a pilot initiative,”

Senick said a municipal toolbox comprises not just of planning and zoning powers and redevelopment laws, but also recognition programs for building owners. She said Rutgers has a good platform to promote those who edge towards energy-efficiency, and Souder said the second component of RCGB’s partnership with the town is marketing and developing the corporate recognition program.

“We have a list of leadership programs in a number of cities and towns across the U.S., and they have been successful. Developers, builders, or building owners tell us all the time that they want somebody to recognize what they are trying to do instead of feeling like they’re always beaten up,” Senick said.

Souder and Senick said Rutgers CGB will continue seeking out municipalities it can work with to influence green building. Its annual funding cycle finishes on January 31, but Senick said she will likely get funding next year to continue West Windsor’s participation the program.

Senick says her co-director at Rutgers believes the Philadelphia region was singled out because “it is a part of the country that Congress can see its way towards appropriating funding for, as it was hit pretty hard economically and it has an abundance of existing infrastructure.”

She said parts of New Jersey the EEB Hub covers may have been an afterthought in the D.O.E’s decision. Environmental Commission member Andrew Kulley told Senick that the age of the commercial building stock in Philadelphia and Trenton is very different than West Windsor’s portfolio of buildings, but Senick and Township Landscape Architect Dan Dobromilsky said that the township should qualify with commercial buildings that might be from the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s.

Senick and Dobromilsky outlined the next steps to putting the program to work in West Windsor — reaching out to corporations and property owners through phone calls, surveys, and other methods. Dobromilsky identified three potential sectors of building owners and managers.

“There’s ‘dollar warehouses’ which generally have lower margins of profit. Then we have those who are big, own a lot of properties, and would pursue green building on their own. Then there is a group in between the two, and that’s probably where to try and get the most,” he said.

Senick said that for a municipality that kind of market segmentation is “fairly powerful.” She asked Dobromilsky and Hornsby about any energy efficiency upgrades that area businesses made that caught their attention, but they said there has not been a lot in West Windsor. Environmental Commission member Andrew Kulley mentioned more of the residential sector innovations such as geothermal systems and solar installations.

“I think it’s a reasonable question to ask because the state has all this focus on these programs to improve energy efficiency. It would be interesting to just see what applications came in recently and what their energy consumption might be,” Senick said.

Senick identified a number of state programs for green building such as NJ SmartStart, Direct Install and Pay for Performance (through New Jersey Clean Energy). She said Pay for Performance specifically targets commercial buildings and can pay up to 50 percent of a project’s cost.

She added that part of the challenges ahead are that businesses might be undertaking a major renovation for a number of reasons (such as expansion) but they are not necessarily seeing that as an opportunity to simultaneously upgrade energy efficiency. Dobromilsky and Kulley were reminded of MarketFair’s renovation, which Kulley said is focused around dining, valet parking, entertainment, and a venue for outdoor music.

Although Senick is mostly focused on ways in which West Windsor could try to influence the private sector to move towards green building, she did say increased energy efficiency at the township’s municipal building through its coming remodeling would be a clear upgrade. But she told the Environmental Commission the impact needs to go further, saying the barriers for improving energy efficiency in municipal buildings are pretty well understood.

“I think they are not as hard to overcome as the question of how does a forward-thinking municipality influence owners of a private asset?” she said.

#b#Sustainable Jersey#/b#. For the Environmental Commission, West Windsor had one more reason to pursue the Rutgers’ collaboration. According to Senick, Sustainable Jersey has agreed that any outcomes from the program could be relayed for “point-bearing action” in a township’s certification application. In fact she was instrumental in founding the Sustainable Jersey program as William Dressel, executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, worked with her to implement Sustainable Jersey.

“Whatever we do (in West Windsor) might be formalized in the next round of Sustainable Jersey’s planning phase as something other towns can do too,” she said.

#b#Energy Audit#/b#. In addition to the first resolution, Hornsby told Council it was important to pass a resolution to submit an application for participation in the “Local Government Energy Audit Program” of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.

“Under the program we would audit all of the municipally-owned buildings in the township. Mainly, the intent would be to use the audit results to implement building upgrades using a utility cost savings.To date there has only been some partial audits and partial upgrades, including the lighting at the municipal building.

Participation in the program would require no costs for the township. Hornsby said West Windsor could be the benefactor of up to $100,000 with the audits.

Hornsby said the deliverable would be a report identifying what the opportunities for upgrades are in West Windsor, and the associated costs. The municipality would have no obligations and would not spend capital to do any upgrades.

According to Hornsby, West Windsor’s participation in both the Rutgers program and energy audit “dovetails nicely” with the environmental action plan the Environmental Commission has been working on diligently.