Legislators - with the strong support of Comptroller Peter Franchot - are pushing for Maryland to start constructing more energy-efficient buildings, a plan backers believe will protect the environment and save the state money.
For the second meeting in a row, Franchot grilled state administrators coming before the Board of Public Works yesterday on how much thought they have given to "green building" standards. He asked Gov. Martin O'Malley to revive an executive order from former Gov. Parris N. Glendening requiring more green buildings and sent a letter to legislators endorsing bills to do the same thing.
"I've always been told we can't have a green building or can only have a green building under very limited circumstances because it costs too much," said Franchot, a former Democratic delegate from Montgomery County. "Yes, there may be a small premium, but there are significant life-span savings."
Five green-building bills were heard yesterday in a Senate committee, but some lawmakers questioned whether the measures are as fiscally wise as their backers claim. With a backlog of hundreds of millions of dollars in school construction, they said now is not the time to enact rules that make buildings cost more on the front end.
"The increased cost could decrease the number of capital projects we budget," said Republican Sen. David R. Brinkley, the minority leader from Frederick County. "We're already behind the eight ball. I recognize the long-term benefits, but we've got problems here in the short term."
O'Malley, who sits with Franchot on the Board of Public Works, expressed support for the comptroller's focus on the issue, saying he wants to look at Glendening's executive order and make green buildings one of the elements of government that is measured through the StateStat program.
But later in the day, administration officials testified against the bills that would require more green buildings, saying the state needs more time to study the issue.
One of the bills discussed yesterday would extend an existing tax credit program to encourage private development of green buildings. The $25 million in credits authorized under current law have already been used by 18 projects around the state, and the bill would authorize the state to award $25 million more. No one raised objections to that proposal in the hearing.
But the other bills under consideration would either require the state to make new projects more energy-efficient or to give price preferences to high-performance designs on major construction projects. In either case, that would mean that the construction cost would not be the only criterion when the state decides on a building design.
Some of the legislation under consideration would also require the state to rent energy-efficient office space or to use environmentally friendly techniques when renovating a building.
Green buildings are designed to be environmentally friendly in a variety of ways. For example, some are designed to reduce the energy used for heating and cooling or for light. Others recycle storm water to reduce runoff.
Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat who sponsored three of the bills, said the increased construction cost for green buildings could be as low as 2 percent.
"These things pay for themselves in as little as three to five years," in reduced energy costs, he said.
Chadwick B. Clapsaddle, the head of capital projects for the Department of Budget and Management, and Lee Wildemann, the legislative liaison for the Department of General Services, said legislators should reject the bills until the state knows more about the effectiveness of three existing green building projects.
"We would like the opportunity to take a look at some of these projects and come back to you with a program that makes sense," Clapsaddle said.
Regardless of the fate of the legislation, Franchot said he intends to raise the issue every chance he can in the Board of Public Works, where he has one of three votes on whether to approve virtually every state contract.