July 23, 2008

When Being Green Costs Too Much: 525 Golden Gate Avenue On Hold

525 Golden Gate Avenue Renderings

“Lofty city plans to construct an ultra-green windmill-studded, solar-panel-embedded, water-recycling office building near City Hall have been thwarted by growing costs.

Work on the 12-story San Francisco Public Utilities building was slated to begin this year but SFPUC General Manager Ed Harrington announced Tuesday the project will be placed “on hold” because of rising costs [and lower than expected efficiencies].”

SFPUC plan for green building held up by cost [Examiner]
525 Golden Gate Avenue (SFPUC Building) [SFGov]

First Published: July 23, 2008 8:00 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

It would really be news if the SF PUC were to get their act all together on the first try. The full light of day rarely shines on what they do, but this is likely to be remembered as yet another example of the public sector failing at the kind of thing the private sector has been doing for years.

Posted by: Mole Man at July 23, 2008 8:20 AM

Why do we need brand-new government office buildings in the first place? Is there no vacant office space at all in the San Francisco commercial real estate market?

Posted by: Anonymous at July 23, 2008 9:52 AM

Private sector rarely builds demonstartion ultra green buildings so it is hard to say

I'm so tried of this green building LEED stuff when we can't even get out basic land use and transit together

Posted by: Zig at July 23, 2008 11:04 AM

Instead of dumping 100s of Millions into "greening" buildings, they should do th following:

1 - Build a standard building with reasonable and affordable efficiencies. make it all electric.

2 - Provision a fraction of the building cost to set up a renewable energy power plant (or invest in one) with an energy output greater or equal to the energy consumption of the building.

One MW of wind power costs around $1-2M to set up. How much do these buildings use anyway?

Posted by: San FronziScheme at July 23, 2008 11:44 AM

The standard building idea is terrible. One of the biggest energy hogs in the entire city is a standard built government building. All that has to change, and there is nothing with sustainable building that interferes with land use or transit issues.

Over the lifetime of the building sustainable strategies save money. Typical costs for LEED certification around 20% extra up front with a total of 50% or more savings over the lifetime of the building. You have to remember that most of the cost of a building is keeping the lights and the heating on. Green building is all about ROI.

The private sector is building lots of LEED buildings which are demonstration ultra green. They may not have these particular features, but that is probably because this set of green features was not well chosen. This is the difference between public and private marketplaces. On the private side the project would be carefullly managed and some elements of sustainability might get compromized. On the public side they throw all their ideas into the pot, stir, then wonder why the project came apart at the seams. The differences between the two have more to do with project management than the actual carbon cost of construction or operation.

Posted by: Mole Man at July 23, 2008 3:34 PM

there's really no such thing as a "standard" building..yes, there are cheaper, less expensive building solutions and materials..

but this new building should, essentially, reflect the "best practices" toward green architecture. that may cost more, but in the long run makes sense.

Posted by: noearch at July 23, 2008 3:43 PM

Sure. But you're introducing ROI and I'd love to see answers to these questions:

- How many MWs does it take to maintain a building per SF?

- How much the "ultra green" option would cost as opposed to a standard option?

- How much would it cost as opposed to offsetting the energy consumption buy adding MWs OUTSIDE of an urban area?


The greening idea is great and I am sure architects, contractors and politicians love it. But the point is improving the total result, not participating the popularity contest some professions want to win while keeping their eyes off the ball.

Adding solar panels and windmills sound like a good idea on paper. But what would be the most effective bangs for the bucks?

Posted by: San FronziScheme at July 23, 2008 3:45 PM

honestly, as an architect, I could care less about ROI, blah, blah, blah...that's the clients problem. and with a public building, even the taxpayers must share in this burden.

Yes, it's going to cost more to be green, but on a square foot basis, it's not much. all kinds of green ideas should be on the table for discussion.and, as technology improves, we will learn more and the costs will come down.

we need to think long term...Green architecture, in my opinion, is not a popularity contest, but a direction, a multitude of solutions toward a more sustainable future.

Posted by: noearch at July 23, 2008 4:26 PM

I remember an architecture design contest I witnessed first hand in Africa 15 years ago. I was doing logistics for the architect.

There were 2 options:

1 - Make a big regional hospital for close to $10M. It would be in the biggest city and people would have to walk 20-30 miles and camp on site to get treatment or attend to their loved ones.

2 - Make a network of small dispensaries/bush clinics with permanent nurses and traveling doctors. Cookie-cutter architecture. Actually, the design was 30 years old and proven. Each dispensary cost 100K to build (this is Africa). Low maintenance, close to the people.

Which one do you think the foreign donors and politicians chose?

Posted by: San FronziScheme at July 23, 2008 4:52 PM

of course I know which one they chose...and that means you never should trust politicians and foreign donors to choose hospital typology.

ok, you made a point. I agree. sometimes.

sometimes, smaller and simpler is, in fact, better for the public. but not always.

I tend toward the both/and philosophy rather than the either/or approach. that's all.

Posted by: noearch at July 23, 2008 6:06 PM

The best solution is to minimize the amount of energy your building uses. Period. Efficient building systems, occupancy sensors, natural lighting, and reducing the amount of outside air you let into the building to be heated or cooled.

I see commercial buildings ranging from about 12-20 kWh/sf/year if they use gas or steam for heating, and up to 30 kWh/sf/year if they use electricity for heating.

For a 300,000 sf office building at 15kWh/sf/year (common size in SF), This is 4,500,000 kWh per year.

Posted by: Soma at July 24, 2008 11:46 PM

Soma,

Thanks for the numbers.

A 1MW windmill will produce 1000 * 365 * 24 = 8,760,000 kWh per year

A 300,000 sf office building according to you would use less than that at 4,500,000 kWh per year and 9,000,000 kWh per year with 100% electricity

Which means that a 1MW windmill theoretically could cover the power usage of a quite large commercial building.

And all this for $1 to $2M.


How much would greening cost?

Posted by: San FronziScheme at July 25, 2008 7:33 AM

once again sf plays it safe..when is the city ever going to take a risk...when we do modern it is generic and when we do classic it is generic...need to take a risk if we are ever going to have any interesting architecture...

Posted by: yoyo at July 25, 2008 12:14 PM

I've never looked at wind turbines, but I'd almost guarantee that you'd never get full pwer capacity 365/24/7. That being said, even if you got 25%-50% efficiency the return on investment would be attractive.

The term greening is subjective. You have to look at what specifically you are trying to improve to get the cost increase. How far do you want to take it?

Posted by: Soma at July 25, 2008 12:16 PM

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