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County looking at green building incentives

New plans would expedite permit process, give incentives to residential construction

County officials want you to go green. They want you to go green really bad; so bad, they might even pay you to do it.

The county has already created an office of sustainability, improving recycling programs and other efficiency efforts in its own operations. Now it's looking into what incentives it can offer to encourage others to do the same.

Scott Caufield, the county's building codes administrator, and Cam Gilmour, the director of transportation and development, have been brainstorming incentives they can offer to encourage people to install solar panels, on-demand hot water or solar water heaters.

'We think that we've come up with a couple of ways that will encourage people to [build green],' Caufield said.

The first of those ideas is to expedite the review process for green buildings.

'In the construction industry time is money,' Caufield said. 'The sooner they can get the permit, the sooner they can start building and get into that building … Especially on the commercial side, many of those [projects] come with incentives [for the builder] for early completion.'

Caufield said he had one contractor tell him that every month sooner he got his permit equaled $100,000 saved.

'The other idea that is perhaps a bit of a departure from traditional government thinking is what if we come up with some kind of financial incentive on the residential side,' he said.

As of April 1, the Oregon Energy Code requires buildings be 15 percent more efficient than the old code. But Caufield said people look at the requirements not as minimums, but as what should be done.

'My thought was, 'what if we could find a way to encourage people to do more than required.''

Caufield said the county could earmark a small amount of its budget for such incentives, or offer a rebate on permit fees.

County commissioners welcomed the ideas, adding recommendations of their own.

'I'm seeing a lot of energy conservation, but I'm not seeing a lot of materials that are recyclable, so I don't know how you get to that - the bamboo floors, recycled glass tiles,' said Commission Chair Lynn Peterson.

Commissioner Bill Kennemer said there are a lot of incentives from the state and federal levels already, and maybe helping people get those incentives could be part of the plan.

'A big piece of that could be information, because a lot of people would do it if they just knew how to do it,' he said.

Defining 'green'

The big challenge in the county's plan is to define what constitutes 'green' building.

'On the commercial side, if we really were offering an incentive, we'd have to hold the bar pretty high,' Caufield said. 'We were thinking perhaps a LEED silver at a minimum.'

But Caufield said that the county wasn't alone in its endeavor, and could save some resources by partnering with regional entities on a plan.

'We can't necessarily just change the code, but there is a movement afoot,' Caufield said. 'In Portland there is a move to adopt a green building incentive code. The state is involved in that, too. My thought on that is let's get to the table at Portland's process.'

The commissioners encouraged that cooperative process.

'I agree,' Peterson said. 'Let's not reinvent the wheel, if they're already pushing one.'

Again, the county is starting internally; they're already in the process of making permit applications available online, of which they process about 17,000 per year. That, they say, will cut down on paper and trips to county offices to file the permits.

They're also canning their pen-and-paper inspection forms in favor of wireless notebooks: they do about 65,000 inspections a year, each spanning multiple pages; now that will all be digital.

'We think it's very reasonable and we're trying to move that so pretty much it's available when [the planning department] moves into the new building in October,' Caufield said.