Anne Perkins: We can no longer afford not to build net-zero

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

In May of 2018, Amherst passed its zero-energy town buildings bylaw by an overwhelming majority, 149-2.

This forward-looking bylaw put Amherst on the map as a trend-setter in efforts to address the climate crisis. Zero-energy buildings are built to high standards of efficiency, so that little energy is needed to power them. They have renewable energy systems, usually solar, to supply the remaining small amount of energy the buildings need annually.

Unfortunately, a recent article headlined, “Net-zero School will be 10% costlier,” only tells half of the story of the financial implications of this bylaw. Yes, there are extra costs, but there are also huge savings. High-performance buildings, which generate as much energy annually as they use, do have higher upfront costs than conventional buildings. Eight percent to 10% is a rule-of-thumb figure for the additional cost.

But remember, these buildings always cost less on a life-cycle basis than conventional buildings. The additional construction cost for the high energy-efficiency of a building, and for solar panels to provide the remaining energy needed, is balanced by very substantial annual energy cost savings. It’s an investment with a return.

Even without subsidies and incentives, those energy savings pay off the loan for the additional construction cost in 15-20 years, and for the rest of the roughly 100-year lifespan of the building, the payoff continues year in and year out. There are likely to be many more articles about Amherst municipal building projects, and the paper would do well to report both the extra costs and the extra savings.

Considering the implications of climate change, we as a society can no longer afford not to build to net-zero.

Anne Perkins