Blog: It Pays to Build Beyond Code

To improve efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of our built environment, many states and local governments are implementing policies and programs which promote beyond-code building criteria. Municipalities and utilities across the country - and here in Michigan - offer incentives for high performance building projects such as LEED certified facilities. Creating financial and structural incentives has become an effective strategy in motivating the market toward green building practices.

During the 1st quarter of 2019 the USGBC West Michigan Chapter, the USGBC Detroit Region, and DTE teamed up, along with several guest speakers, to present “It Pays to Build Beyond Code” lunch and learn events across Michigan.  Attendees learned about the variety of resources available to maximize these incentives, and how incentive rebates can help offset installation or construction costs, reducing payback time on investments in energy efficiency projects.

Kevin McNeely, McNeely Building Group

Kevin McNeely, of McNeely Building Group, spoke about potential incentives available from local municipalities. McNeely explored possible benefits such as an expedited permitting process or additional permitted square footage or density. Some possible cost-saving financial incentives are permit fee reductions or tax credits. Identifying and complying with beyond-code policies or programs of the municipality where a project is located is an important step in maximizing the incentives for that project.

John Adams & Dru Ross, Outreach Managers for DTE’s Incentive Rebate Program, provided an overview of the

John Adams, DTE Energy

DTE program and discussed resources available to customers who are interested in taking advantage of incentives for their project.  The Incentive Rebate Program is funded by the Energy Optimization Surcharge on ratepayers. Customers can receive rebates on the surcharges they pay for energy optimization projects. Since 2009, the program has paid out $186 million in incentives for over 53,000 projects.

There are three categories of projects that qualify for rebates: Prescriptive, Custom, and New Construction/Major Renovation. DTE has several resources to help customers determine what category their project falls under, and how to apply for rebates. A copy of the 2019 incentive catalog can be found here.

Dru Ross, DTE Energy

Jon Somerville, Jim Minthorn, & Mark Bates, Energy Efficiency Advisors for Consumers Energy, explored incentives available from Consumers Energy’s energy efficiency rebates & programs. DTE & Consumers Energy emphasized that customers that use both companies for gas and electric can take advantage of both programs at the same time, and they often work together to streamline the process.

Kevin Dunbar, Corporate Energy Supervisor at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) discussed FCA’s experience with utility provider incentives. Dunbar’s presentation was a testimonial of a large DTE customer successfully utilizing the DTE Energy Efficiency Program for Business and trade ally contractors to maximize incentives. Emphasis was placed on the importance of identifying incentives and setting targets early in the project planning process. Dunbar also stressed that early review of the project with the Energy Efficiency Program for Business team, and conducting a design review of all models to ensure a project is on the correct path to achieve the desired qualification.

Kevin Dunbar, FCA Group

FCA has implemented Corporate Technical Specifications that require all new buildings to be LEED Gold certified. The corporation has over 6 LEED Gold certified facilities in the U.S., including the recently completed South Paint Shop at its Sterling Heights Assembly Plant campus. Through maximizing incentives on these projects, FCA has earned nearly $1 million in rebates which it is able to re-invest in future projects.  Completion of energy efficiency projects not only has financial benefit, but allows businesses to celebrate successful projects and promote commitment to energy efficiency in public relations.

In Traverse City, Botanic Gardens Board Chair, Karen Schmidt provided a unique perspective  of the many green features that make them highly energy and resource efficient.  Examples include old water troughs from the barn that were repurposed as LED light fixtures and the 40% water reduction at the facility. The architect of the project, Ray Kendra of Environment Architects, discussed more of the building attributes, including revamping a hundred year old cellar into a stunning pavillion that preserves the historical details of the property.

Renae Hesselink, Nichols

Ryan McCoon, of Endura Performance Homes and board member of Habitat for Humanity Grand Traverse Region explained that building to code is the bare minimum. While a high performance home may cost slightly more,  when considering mortgage payments and decreased utility bills, owners will see a lower cost per month.

Lastly, Renae Hesselink from Nichols shared the LEED journey at their Muskegon Headquarters. The facility has seen a reduction of $30,000 a year in utility costs.  Most exciting was the demand ventilation project that produced a utility rebate $2,000.00 over project cost. That’s right - they saw an immediate profit from installing demand ventilation.

The events concluded with several key takeaways:

  • It is important to decide energy efficiency goals early in the planning stages of a project and use that goal as a guide in preparing models and selecting materials and equipment. Deciding too late in a project can result in costly changes or not achieving the certification goal.
  • Many contractors are educated on the incentives and rebates offered by utilities and municipalities and can be an excellent resource to assist with identifying and maximizing incentives for your project.
  • Utilize project tracking resources such as LEED Online and Arc to keep track of documentation and set benchmarks to track a project’s progress.
  • DTE and Consumers Energy offer a number of resources to customers, contractors, builders, and other parties involved in energy efficiency projects to assist with identifying and qualifying for incentives. DTE & Consumers Energy outreach teams are available to assist in all aspects of the planning process to help projects meet their goals.

To access the speaker presentation, click here

Written by Brittany Cullimore, USGBC West Michigan Guest Writer