Connecticut’s 2020 Legislative Agenda Omits Buildings Amidst Climate Change Concerns

By Kristen Coperine
With collaboration from Alicia Dolce, Ross Spiegel, and Melissa Kops of the CTGBC

On Wednesday, January 15th, the Connecticut Green Building Council (CTGBC) was a sponsor of the 20th Annual Connecticut League of Conservation Voter’s Environmental Summit. The robust event, held at Trinity College in Hartford, drew legislators and their staff, as well as environmental organizations from throughout the state.

The event is viewed as the "kick-off" party to the legislative session in terms of identifying hot-button issues from the panelists, the audience and the legislators themselves. Perhaps 25 different legislators stood up and introduced themselves before the Keynote address was given by Katie Dykes, Commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). One guest who attended last year's event commented that it was noticeably different how front and center mentions of climate change were at this year's event.

In her Keynote, Ms. Dykes emphasized the importance of resiliency planning as a major theme. She remarked that climate change keeps her up at night and that 2020 is a most consequential year, given what is at stake with the next presidential election. 

Under her direction, a sustainability office has been established in every department of state government.  She emphasized goals for electric vehicles (EVs), attributing transportation as the largest culprit within the built environment contributing to greenhouse gases (GHGs). Offshore wind is a big win for the state to enable reaching the goal set for energy from renewable resources while boosting the local economy. She also praised the new chairman of PURA, Marissa Gillette, for leading the charge to create an equitable and modern power grid.

Connecticut is at a crossroads in terms of its integrated resources plan. Per the Governor’s Executive Order #3 (GC3), the state is committed to a 100% zero-carbon grid. "Natural gas is not a bridge fuel.  It is a fossil fuel," said the Commissioner, which will take a commitment of mind to turn the ship around regarding the deployment of renewable resources into our power grid and address the natural gas statues.

The event coincided with a report prepared by the State Office of Legislative Research which summarizes key issues the legislature could take up during the upcoming session (beginning on February 5th). The 19-page document highlighted 22 major issues for the 2020 legislature to consider, including Energy (and Technology), Environment, Housing, Planning (and Development), and Transportation.

However, neither in the report nor at the event was there any proposed legislation related to buildings. “The role that buildings play, relative to GHG emissions in Connecticut, received minimal mention at the session, which suggests the potential of high-performance buildings as both a mitigation and adaptation strategy is not on the radar,” commented Alicia Dolce, Executive Director of the Connecticut Green Building Council.

There appears to be a disconnect between Connecticut’s climate goals and the identified strategies related to the building sector due to a lack of understanding at the state level and even within our own industry. Buildings account for 40% of US energy use but 70% of electricity usage, while emitting more than one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (Alliance to Save Energy). To keep warming below 1.5C, new construction must achieve zero carbon by 2030, and existing construction must be renovated to achieve zero carbon by 2040.

These targets are not only relative to energy efficiency, but also include the energy required for construction. The embodied energy related to materials and construction is increasingly recognized as a significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.  In fact, embodied carbon will be responsible for almost half of the total emissions associated with new construction between now and 2050 (Architecture 2030).

We at the Connecticut Green Building Council believe that buildings must be part of the state’s solution to meeting reduced emissions and decarbonization objectives, while also positioning our building stock to be part of the state’s strategies for resiliency and climate change adaptation. Without significant updates to how buildings are built, renovated, and operated, the state will fall substantially short on reaching these goals.

The conversation that began at Trinity College is ongoing, and at the time of writing teleconference calls for all of the various panels have begun.  Furthermore, due to our outreach and advocacy work, CTGBC has recently been invited to participate in working groups being organized by DEEP, in connection with the GC3. Accurately assessing the state’s progress on mitigation and strengthening Connecticut’s preparedness and resilience to the expected impacts of climate change in the coming decades will require the inclusion of stakeholders who bring a diversity of knowledge, perspective, and expertise.

This involvement and these conversations are “important for CTGBC in that it furthers our advocacy efforts as outlined in the Committee’s recently adopted ‘Advocacy Policy Guidelines’ and reinforces our intent to raise the level of recognition of CTGBC statewide. CTGBC will continue to actively support efforts of the state government to address climate change and net-zero energy” stated CTGBC’s Chair, Ross Spiegel.

For more information on the CTGBC and its positions on climate change and resiliency, including the issues the legislature ought to consider, check out the Advocacy Page here.

Read More

High Profile Magazine Features 2019 CTGBC Green Building Awardee

The 2019 - 2020 Annual Green Supplement of High Profile Magazine cover feature is the 2019 Award of Excellence recipient, the Slate School. The article CTGBC Names The Slate School Best in Show,

 describes the work done by Patriquin Architects to reduce the school's ecological footprint with the owner's vision to create a healthy and environmentally friendly campus. 

Also featured in the magazine, CTGBC Member, Caroline DiDomenico, LEED AP ID+C, GPRO O+M, has written a piece 

entitled: It IS Possible to be "Off-Grid" in Snow Country!!.   In it, she describes the construction of her off-grid Vermont home. 

View the 2019 Annual Green Supplement here.

Read More

Sustainable Construction Trends & Green Building Standards

CTGBC Publishes In CONNStruction Magazine 

CTGBC Board Members were asked to submit an article to CONNStruction Magazine, sharing their expertise in the Green Building industry.  The article, Sustainable Construction Trends & Green Building Standardswas published in the Summer 2019 edition.  Read the article here!


Read More

Living Off the Grid, A Brief Introduction

by Caroline DiDomenico

In 2003, the idea of solar power and renewable energy had not been a new concept, but resources in Vermont to build your own off grid home required a lot of research, exploration, and getting to know the local grassroots experts.

It had been our intent to lessen our impact on the environment on land which was in a private wooded setting. Running power lines through our neighbor’s meadow was not an ideal situation for building friendships either. Alternative energy sources were explored and solar was selected after a local organization held green building tours at other Vermont homes.

The initial items purchased were a portable generator and gel batteries. This allowed for some small generation of power, that could be stored and run a few items at night, as well as provide power for tools necessary to continue to build.  We then added a small photovoltaic array, 3 150-watt panels, which powered the 6 12-volt batteries and kept them charged. Later, an additional 6 235-watt panels were added, and a new deep lead acid cycle battery storage system consisting of 12 2-volt batteries replaced the gel batteries. At this time another charge controller and new set of inverters were added as well.

The house was built in phases, and until 2017, the power system was designed only for weekend use and was shut down prior to leaving. 

Some quick basics on what components are needed for an off grid solar power system:

Photovoltaic Solar Panels – your source of power

Charge Controller – used to safely charge and protect the batteries from overcharging

Inverter – Your inverter converts DC to AC

Solar panels deliver, and batteries operate with Direct Current (DC)

Standard outlets provide power in Alternating Current (AC)

Batteries – Your energy storage bank—use it carefully!

Generator - Your back up power source (usually a necessity)

The current upgrade to the system, operational in 2018, was designed with the intent of making the house suitable for full time occupancy. In order to do this, we determined we wanted to have 4-5 days of autonomy (no sun at all to recharge the batteries, and no use of generator). Think worst case scenario of winter storms in Vermont; we sized the battery bank for this. The bank consists of 24 2-volt 1000 amp-hour batteries, to make a 48-volt, 48,000 amp-hour battery system. From this, we determined we’d need a13.5 kW PV array. Now we need to manage all that power coming into the batteries; this is where the charge controllers come in. We chose charge controllers that could all communicate to one another. 6 of the original PV panels are wired to one controller, then the new ground array was wired in 3 separate sections to 3 other controllers, with a 5th controller for 3 new panels on the south wall of the house. The system allows for one controller to take charge if another isn’t producing as much power, and continuously provide maximum energy to the batteries.

When we designed the system for full time use, we accounted for all the present day and future power loads we would like to have in place; the result was a 6.8 kW 240-volt inverter (that also communicates with the PV controllers).  The entire system performance and status is continuously available via an Android phone app.

The ground array today has room to expand, and we currently have more power than we need right now.

As we explore future plans for the house, we would like to consider a small turbine as an option, but this would be done only when the house is occupied full time. Wind power can produce an excess of power at any given time and you need to be able to have a place to dump the extra load or be able to shut the system down completely to protect the turbine from damage.

One day, our hope is to be able to have the entire house power needs, including heat, be produced via 100% renewable power!

System Block Diagram (Simplified)

Controllers and Inverter, Battery Box below, normally left open

New ground array with room for expansion                             

New array and original array on pole barn

Panels are mounted on side of house to allow for continuous “trickle charge”. There is little opportunity for snow and ice to remain on these, ensuring the batteries are always receiving a charge even in the worst weather.

Read More

Inspiration and Understanding of Equity of Place - NESSBE 2019

By Antonia Ciaverella, Tecton Architects

March 19th, 2019

The power of the NESSBE conference is its ability to unite individuals around a common purpose.  This year, one theme immediately emerged: “The people closest to the pain should be closest to the power.”  This message from Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, quoted during one of the workshops, echoed a call to action given by Dr. Julian Ageyman during the keynote address.  He challenged each of us to do everything we can to invite true belonging in our cities and buildings.  From spatial justice and livable streets, to food justice and heritage narratives, the opportunities for equity of place are vast, and yet often discouraged or unexplored.  We have to work together to solve the world’s greatest challenges, and in that spirit of thoughtful ingenuity, the rest of the day unfolded.

In one of the morning breakout sessions, Linda Powers Tomasso, a PhD student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health described a new way to think about health impacts.  In addition to measuring our exposure to toxins, can we measure the positive health benefits of nature?  In other words, can we treat nature as an exposure factor, and measure levels of phytoncides, for example?  Something to consider on your next walk!  Ashley Gripper, also a PhD student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a RWJF Health Policy Research Scholar, described a recent project that illustrated not only the powerful relationship between the built environment and food equity, but also the importance of forming a partnership early-on between policy makers dedicated to resiliency in their jurisdictions, public health professionals, and the design team.  In this particular project, public health professionals were not engaged until after the design phase.  The well-intentioned neighborhood reconstruction project provided healthy food options, but unfortunately did not engage a portion of the community living just a quarter-mile away, who were without the physical or financial means to access these new amenities.

As the day continued, Marcus Smith, Senior Manager at Connecticut Children’s Healthy Homes Program, Karraine Moody, Executive Director at Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity, and Jacquelyn Rose, Program Manager for the Advancing Kids Innovation Program at Connecticut Children’s, encouraged us with these words: Innovation is a million step process.  Through a group activity and an insightful workshop, they shared how to use a social design framework as a tool for community engagement: Identify, Ideate, Design, Pilot, Implement and Scale.  The key to success is to spend enough time in ideation to ensure that the needs of the stakeholders are fully understood.

The inspirational capstone to this year’s summit, centered on social justice in the built environment, was a workshop hosted by Common Ground.  With educators and students present, the team began their session with a gallery walk of artifacts, giving participants a glimpse into the projects and process of this exceptional community organization.  Joel Tolman, Director of Impact & Engagement at Common Ground described the importance of physical co-creation and of making the road by walking.  Located on a farm, in the forest, near a city, Common Ground’s unique setting goes hand-in-hand with a sustainable approach to learning.  Tolman emphasized the importance of engaging students in the construction of buildings and curriculum, to create environments that not only elevate our physical experience but also connect us culturally and strengthen the community.

Read More