Going green while saving green

NEWPORT BEACH — Many can picture the view from the top floor of the Central Library here — the Pacific in the distance, palm trees swaying in the breeze and sun streaming through the windows.

With its new Civic Center under construction next door, the city's hoping to take advantage of those natural elements.

Officials say measures like designing the buildings to receive natural light will lessen the city's impact on the environment and will save the city money in the long run

by reducing energy use. They hope these green efforts combined will qualify the Civic Center for a LEED Silver or Gold status — awards conferred by the U.S. Green Building Council.

"The nice part about the whole green process is that it's not only the right thing to do, but it also makes sense for the city," said Public Works Director Steve Badum. "Anything we can do to reduce the operating cost is important."

Architects and consultants have aimed to reduce the impact with recyclable building materials, draught-resistant landscaping, sophisticated heating and ventilation systems, and by orienting the building to receive more of the ocean breeze.

For each of the measures, Badum said the city and its consultants considered the cost and benefits. They calculated the payback — how long it would take for the city to recoup its initial investment through reduced operating expense.

"We had to weigh the economic benefits with the environmental benefits, and there has to be a balance there," Badum said.

At the Civic Center's planned restaurant, some of the costs may be borne by customers — the library patrons and City Hall visitors and employees. In its request for food service proposals, the city suggested that the provider harvest waste oils for biodiesel fuels, and provide locally produced, sustainably harvested meats, fish and vegetables.

Some of the more elaborate environmental measures have already been abandoned because they are too expensive, Badum said.

Instead of a water recycling program, for instance, the city plans two sets of plumbing: one for freshwater and another for re-claimed water that would be used for toilets and landscaping (although today there aren't any reclaimed water pipes serving that area).

The City Council has yet to decide on some of the environmental options; it's waiting for all the construction bids to be submitted. One of the most expensive investments would be rooftop solar panels. Contractors were asked to submit bids for the roof with and without photovoltaic cells, Badum said.

One solar installation company estimated that the city would reduce its total electricity costs by 25 percent. Solar panels would cost $800,000, before rebates, and Newport Beach would pay back costs for them within about 11 years, according to SolarCity, a Foster City, Calif.-based firm.

Badum said that solar panels would probably "break even" — meaning they wouldn't save the city a lot of money, nor would be a big drag on the budget. That's where the council would consider other factors like the city's environmental credibility and the example it sets.

"It's important that the city take the lead," said Councilwoman Nancy Gardner. "Buildings are a major source of energy consumption, so we want our public buildings to have as small a footprint as possible."

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