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SAVANNAH, GA-Certain green building practices not only can provide economic benefits through greater energy efficiency, but they could also become potential revenue sources, say executives at AMB Property Corp., which is developing a center near this city’s port. The San Francisco-based REIT is developing its first LEED-certified project, a 3.3 million-sf speculative distribution center, on 249 acres near this city’s port.

The development kicked off with a 343,000-sf multi-tenant spec facility set for completion this spring, but it is two buildings with more than one million sf each that hold the promise for significant future revenue enhancement, according to John Morgan, AMB vice president, development, east region, and Steven Campbell, senior vice president and director of environmental and development services. The potential source of revenue is solar power.

“Many of our buildings have a million sf of roof area or more,” notes Morgan. “You need about one megawatt of power to run that building. That translates to about 100,000 sf of photovoltaic cells, which means you have 900,000 sf remaining where you could generate another nine megawatts of power.”

Theoretically, says Morgan, a building owner could sell the excess power back to the local utility company, but currently there are obstacles to doing so. The more serious obstacle is a regulatory environment, which varies somewhat from state to state, that limits the amount of energy that can be returned to the utility grid for compensation.

“Generally you can only build a bank account for your building that lasts 12 months,” Campbell tells GlobeSt.com. “We believe there’s significant legislative desire at the state level to change that, but at the moment that’s the law.” He says the situation is particularly nettlesome in Georgia because of the clout of the coal industry. “Georgia is the number one coal burning state in the country,” he points out.

Another obstacle is the up-front cost of installing solar panels. Though many states and local jurisdictions have incentives to reduce the cost, few of the incentive programs are yet sufficient to make installation fully economical. Morgan contrasts the situation with that of Europe, where most countries have far more advanced energy and green-building initiatives.

“The buildings we’re developing in Europe are driven by norms that have a much higher standard than we have in the US,” he reports. “If you look at them on a LEED point basis, all of them would be certified, and most would hit on at least the silver certification level.”

In addition, Morgan continues, most European utility companies are required to accept solar or wind-generated energy back on the grid. “We have not reached that level in the US,” he observes. “Our government structure is not set up to address these issues cohesively, partly because it is so fragmented. In Europe, energy and green-building policy is set at the national level.”

Campbell believes the market has not fully grasp the range of economic benefits provided by green building. “We think as people get up to speed and start to look at their operating costs, they’re going to gravitate toward these facilities,” he says. “High-efficiency lighting, for example, can pay for itself in nine months. After that, it becomes pure savings. Ultimately the market will validate all this, but it’s still coming around.”

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