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State policies promote energy-efficient buildings

The Leon County Extension Center serves as an example for energy-efficient buildings across the state

The Environment Florida Research and Policy Center says making your homes more energy efficient is easy. If you don’t believe them all you have to do is look at one building in Tallahassee Florida that’s over 50 years old and making all of its own energy. And Regan McCarthy reports a provision in a comprehensive energy bill passed this session could help communities across the state to fund similar efforts.

Nestled here in a beautiful garden filled with Impatients and roses is the Leon County extension center. It’s what’s called a net zero building—meaning the building’s energy consumption averages to zero.

Some days with cool beautiful weather like we’re having this spring, we through our solar system are producing excess energy so that’s being fed back into the grid so to say. And in theory that can be thought of like roll-over minutes for your cell phone.”

That’s Maggie Theriot, the director of the office of resource stewardship in Leon County. The building has been retrofitted with a 60 kilowatt solar electric system and a geothermal heating and cooling system. And Theriot says Leon County officials decided to turn the extension office into a net-zero building in an effort to set an example of what can be done. But Environment Florida Research and Policy Center Director Aliki Moncrief says conserving energy doesn’t require a major overhaul. She says homeowners, businesses and government agencies can make small changes that can really go a long way.

“They can make a difference by caulking their windows. They can make a difference by you know, putting film on old windows. There are lots of really affordable things that people can go to a hardware store and get supplies and make a difference. Just getting the drafts out of your home makes a huge difference.”

And Moncrief says Leon County isn’t the only community to start making those changes. For example, the city of Lantana, in Palm Beach County, has started offering tax assessments for commercial properties that invest in energy efficiency improvements. So, instead of having to take out a loan or putting money down for a big energy efficiency project, businesses pay off the cost of the improvement when they pay their property taxes over the course of the next few years.

“So it’s a lot more affordable for them to be able to do that. And then it also transfers to the next property owner. It can increase the property values.”

And Representative Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda, a Democrat from Tallahassee, says a provision in the comprehensive energy bill passed by the legislature this session, would give communities the option of increasing sales taxes by up to a penny through a local referendum vote to help fund these kids of projects.

“And so what that would allow them to do would be to do programs like this. And so it’s wide open. If they want to do low interest loans with that money, if they want to do grants... Whatever it is that that community sees fit to tailor it to their needs they can do.”

But Rehwinkel-Vasalinda stresses that big investments are not necessary for the average homeowner or business to save energy. She says simple steps like turning off the lights when they’re not in use is a great way to start.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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