Senate OKs tax credits for `greener' buildings

State effort to save energy is expected to become law

April 07, 2001|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Developers of so-called "green" buildings could receive tax benefits for their energy efficiency under legislation passed yesterday by the Maryland Senate.

The legislation, already passed by the House of Delegates, is expected to receive final approval as soon as the two chambers can reconcile their different versions of the bill. Gov. Parris N. Glendening is expected to sign the measure.

Ed Osann, Maryland representative for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Maryland would become the second state in the union to adopt such legislation. Several others are considering similar bills.

"This is a very innovative bill, and once again Maryland is a leader," Osann said.

The bill seeks to encourage developers to incorporate conservation features in new and rehabilitated buildings - both commercial and residential - by offering them tax credits. The credits would help defray some of the costs of making buildings energy efficient and using renewable sources.

Among the features that would qualify for credits are on-site facilities to power buildings with solar energy, wind or fuel cells.

To qualify, buildings would have to save 35 percent more energy than required under the most stringent codes in effect, Osann said.

Proponents point to the new headquarters of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation as a model of "green" construction.

Theresa M. Pierno, Maryland executive director of the bay foundation, praised the legislation as an effective way to educate builders about the long-term benefits of "green construction."

Pierno said the foundation's new $7 million building, which opened in November on 31 acres outside Annapolis, has been yielding even greater energy savings than the environmental group expected.

She said the tax credit on a similar structure built by a for-profit company would come to about $21,000.

The U.S. Green Building Council gave the foundation's headquarters the highest rating of any office building for its design.

The building includes flushless, composting toilets, natural ventilation, solar-heated rooms and rooftop cisterns that catch rainwater.

In written testimony, the foundation said the technologies in the building have let it cut energy use by two-thirds and water use per person by 90 percent.

Passage of the legislation follows an executive order issued by Gov. Parris N. Glendening requiring energy conservation features to be incorporated in new state construction.

The state is currently developing the former Montgomery Ward distribution center in Southwest Baltimore - the future headquarters of the Maryland Department of the Environment - as a green building.

Pierno said projects such as the foundation headquarters and the state project are beginning to attract the notice of private developers.

"Obviously industry is looking at building green because they realize there's a cost savings," she said.

Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg, the House sponsor of the legislation, said the bill is patterned after similar legislation in New York.

Rosenberg said the idea was first suggested to him by Joseph Clarke, a well-known Baltimore developer who had read about the New York law.

Rosenberg originally introduced the bill last year without success.

But this year the Baltimore Democrat enlisted the support of House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who signed on as a co-sponsor and put the bill in his package of legislative priorities.

"That's been the key to its getting as far as it has," Rosenberg said.

Osann said the legislation could speed the adoption of innovative technologies for energy conservation.

"In 10 or 12 years, maybe all new buildings in Maryland will be green buildings," he said.

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