This article was posted on Sunday, Jun 01, 2014

Here’s what you should know about what’s new in 2014 in regards to the water and energy conservation law. Beginning in January 1, 2014, selling and installing toilets that are not High Efficiency Toilets (HET) is not allowed in California. An average household with a family of four could save 16,000 gallons of water a year by replacing its traditional toilets with HET. Now think how that saved water will translate into saved dollars.

If you own a non-residential building, you will also have an energy efficiency rating for your building. That rating will affect your property values and investment. These, in turn, are also going to help you save your energy and utility bills.

There are laws and ordinances in the city, county, and state-level that you can take advantage of in order to gain incentives and additional benefits from actively partaking in the water and energy conservation effort. These laws and ordinances will affect your investment, property management, and more importantly, the value of the properties. In late 2007, two bills were originally introduced in the California State Assembly with the goal of conserving water and energy use.

AssemblyBill715 (AB715), signed in October, dealt with toilets and the water used when flushing. Conventional toilets in both residential and commercial buildings used to flush more than five gallons per flush (gpf) down the toilet – literally. By the mid-1990’s it was lowered to 3.5 gpf, and up until last year, it has gotten low enough to 1.6 gpf. AB715, signed almost 7 years ago, now requires all of toilets sold to meet the newest water flush standard of 1.28 gpf (HET, a.k.a. High Efficiency Toilets) starting 2014. This would amount to 75% of water saved compared to the conventional toilets that have existed since the 1980’s, and is one of the key parts of California’s long-term effort to conserve water through efficient use.

AssemblyBill1103 (AB1103), signed a month later, dealt with energy usage data disclosure for buildings. The bill requires non-residential business owners to disclose energy consumption and other building data to the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager system, which will generate an energy efficiency rating for the building.

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Starting January of 2014, all non-residential buildings over 10,000 square feet are mandated to obtain such rating and the implementation will expand to buildings over 5,000 square feet come July. The intended effect of this bill is to encourage property owners to put in their own efforts to raise the energy rating for their buildings. Owners are required to disclose the ratings when selling or leasing the property, and higher ratings are expected to increase the value of the property overall.  According to an article from the Journal of Appraisal, a dollar saving in utility would contribute to the increase of the property value as much as twenty times of the saving.

California uses a lot of water and electricity. With the recent drought and overall rise in price of energy, the state has taken active steps to reduce the use of water and energy in both residential and non-residential (commercial) properties. Generally, there are two ways a government persuades its citizens to act in a certain way, through “carrot” and “stick” approach.

The government can decide to make certain acts, or lack thereof, against the law and penalize (stick) you for it. For example, if a car uses too much gas and pollutes the air, the government can “penalize” you for choosing to use that car by imposing higher tax involved than other cars. As long as they are rationally related to a legitimate government purpose, as the case here, such restriction is legal.

Another way a government gets its citizens to act according to their intentions is through giving incentives (carrots) for compliance. While the penalize method is usually used to deter people from doing dangerous and harmful things, the incentivizing method is used to encourage people to do good things that help the government’s long-term goal.

California chose to implement the latter method and perfect examples of this carrot method are AB715 and AB1103.

In contrast to AB715 that specifies the use of HETs as a means of conserving water, AB1103 incentivizes the end result of various methods that are available for the people to choose. And there are a number of methods.

Solar energy is another example that uses the sunlight to generate energy instead of petroleum, natural gas, or water. A large portion of gas-based energy used in residential environment involves heating of the air and water in the house. In the warm California weather, heating of the air does not amount to large usage of energy but heating of the water does.

With a solar thermal system, one can use the sunlight to heat the water used for showers and other home use. Solar energy also can be used to produce electricity, which can be directly used to reduce your electricity bill, or sell back to the electricity company if you produce surplus amount. Solar PV (photovoltaics) panels work to turn the sunlight hitting your roof or the carport into electric energy. Although the initial investment into purchase and installation of these solar energy systems seems high, the tax credits, governmental rebate incentives, and reduced gas and/or electric bills will ultimately pay off and beyond. In both solar thermal and PV, the State of California achieves its goal of conserving fuel energy while the people save money through lowered gas and electricity bills.

But what if you’re not ready to cough up a large sum of money (even though you’ll be getting that money back, and then some) into energy conservation? You can start with the little things, like LED lighting retrofits. In comparison with incandescent or fluorescent lighting conventionally used in both residential and commercial buildings, LED lightings have lower energy consumption, a longer life span, and higher color rendering ability. This is in addition to being safer because LED lighting does not contain mercury like fluorescent lighting or any other harmful chemicals and more importantly, no flickering of light will mean that LED lights will positively affect your work productivity.

We will also observe the complete phase out of the old incandescent light bulbs this year, attributable to the Energy Independence and Security act of 2007.  The phase out of incandescent bulbs had started out in 2012, starting with the 100-watt bulb, and then followed by the 75 watt.  Beginning January 1, 2014, both the 60 watt and 40 watt bulbs have finally been phased out, leaving a huge void for LED lights to fill and that will substantially improve the energy efficiency.

Retrofit LED lightings are readily available so that you can replace the existing lighting fixtures with the new LED lightings. That would save 50% to 85% of your electric bills. This change will immediately affect your next month’s electricity bill and the re-lamp and maintenance cost of your lighting.

Water is a scarcity in Southern California with its warm cozy sun and lack of rainy days. The state gets its water for the city of Los Angeles from various sources, including the Los Angeles Aqueduct and the Colorado River.  However, the water supply is not on the increase although the ever-growing population of the state is going to require more and more water. Ultimately, it all boils down to making plans to conserve the existing supply and use them wisely.

The top three culprits of water usage in California are residential use, cooling towers, and irrigation. Cooling towers are used in the industrial sector to reject the heat generated by heavy machineries and use a large amount of water, most of which are clean enough to drink. Optimization of efficiency in using such cooling towers can lead to conservation of water in the industrial sector. Irrigation can vary from supplying water to the various crops being raised by farmers to watering the lawns of apartment buildings in the city.

As explained above, AB715 seeks to achieve water conservation in both residential and commercial environment through HETs.  However, the bill takes care of newly installed toilets only, leaving several millions of low efficiency toilets using up precious gallons of water per flush.  In order to combat this issue, most utilities offer rebates to replace existing ones. For example, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) offers an attractive cash rebate program to those who choose to replace their conventional toilets to HET.  LADWP also offers Technical Assistance Program (TAP) that would benefit for commercial and multi-family customers by modernizing the facility with the latest water efficient equipment, save you money and conserve our most precious water resource.  The program offers up to $250,000 in financial incentives for approved equipment and products that demonstrate water savings.

This is designed as a win-win scenario for both the state and the citizens; the state saves money by conserving water and the people receive money to install toilets that lowers their water bill.

It is also helpful to note that several water conservation service companies provide turnkey program for property owners to retrofit older toilets with newer HET for free, subject to your region and applicable incentive program. The companies also provide TAP program to save money on your utility bills by utilizing the rebate program from the state in their place. With such risk-free options to conserve water and lower one’s water bill, California is rapidly seeing its long-term plan for water conservation come to fruition.

A brief scan at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) website reveals hundreds of programs in California that are designed and waiting to reward you of your efforts to conserve water and energy. You can contact your utility service provider or water conservation specialists for additional information on how you can save.

Daniel Y.Bahk is a legal counsel and business development specialist at AmGreen Solutions Inc. AmGreen Solutions Inc. is the leading provider of water conservation and energy efficiency programs for Southern California region. If you have any questions regarding water and energy conservation opportunities in your properties, please call AmGreen at 844-AMGREEN (264-7336), or e-mail at [email protected].

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