San Diego County’s energy-saving strategies led to LEED Platinum

Borrego Springs Library is a 14,100-square-foot building built on concrete pilings. One end of the building is elevated two feet from the ground and the other eight feet. The design mitigates potential damage from flash floods, which are frequent in the area. The building is also LEED Gold and zero net energy.

San Diego County’s energy-saving strategies led to LEED Platinum

Fall 2019 | Written by Katharine Logan

Each year, delegates from the County of San Diego’s Energy and Sustainability Division head to Greenbuild to find out what’s new. Often, they find a few nuggets of information to work into their sustainability plan. At the 2016 conference, they heard about USGBC’s imminent launch of the LEED for Communities pilot. With the county’s record of progressive sustainability initiatives, they saw at once that the rating system would be a great fit.

“We knew we would score pretty well,” says Charley Marchesano, chief of the County of San Diego’s Energy and Sustainability Division. “I wasn’t sure we were going to get Platinum.” But that’s exactly where the county landed, becoming the first in the state of California—and only the second in the country—to achieve Platinum-level certification under the new program.

Of 14 key metrics for sustainability—including energy, water, waste, transportation, education, health, safety, prosperity, and equitability—the county’s great strength is energy. Its near-perfect score of 32 out of a possible 33 points reflects such initiatives as a zero net energy (ZNE) portfolio plan, a strategic energy plan, and an ongoing commitment to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. “We really are aggressive in that area,” says Marchesano.

The county’s Zero Net Energy Portfolio Plan, with several phases already well under way, for example, aims to reduce the energy footprint of its facilities by half, down from 1.6 billion kBtu/yr, by 2030. The plan entails a multipronged approach to improving efficiency and increasing renewable energy, with the expectation that some sites will be able to achieve ZNE.

Charley Marchesano is the chief of the County of San Diego’s Energy and Sustainability Division. Photo: Adeeb Howrani

The new 55,000-square-foot North Coastal Live Well Health Center, located in the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency building, is both LEED Platinum and zero net energy.

Ferguson Pape Baldwin Architects, C.W. Driver, and Architect Manuel Oncina designed the new 13,500-square-foot branch library for the County of San Diego. The Alpine Library achieved both LEED Gold certification and Zero Net Energy certification via Living Future Institute.

Initial efficiencies from low-hanging fruit—such as staff training and smart energy management technologies—are expected to get the ball rolling, saving between 5 and 10 percent. Installing large-scale photovoltaics at seven county sites will cut another 12 percent, with a ZNE requirement for all new county facilities bringing in another six. (The county has four ZNE buildings already and another six in the pipeline.)

For facilities that are too small to generate their own solar power, the County of San Diego coordinated a deal with its local utility, SDG&E, to purchase regionally produced 100 percent renewable energy—that’s another 5 percent of savings. It will then focus on its heavy users: detention, office, and health, which together account for 70 percent of the county’s energy bills; multiple efficiency measures in these sectors are expected to cut consumption a further 17 to 22 percent. Then, the final stretch will boost onsite renewables even further. “We have already purchased 100 percent renewable power from our local utility for all these sites via a limited program they have called Eco Choice. This has been in place for more than two years,” says Marchesano. “We are expecting to enter into another series of Power Purchase Agreements for additional photovoltaic power to be built on our properties. We’ll most likely start that effort around 2025. Currently, we are building several photovoltaic systems on our property, which is part of the initial onsite renewables piece of the plan.”

In addition to reduced environmental impact and improved resilience, the County of San Diego expects that reaching its energy efficiency goals will mean significant savings for taxpayers. County professionals also hope that leading by example will encourage similar efforts in local government agencies and private businesses. “We’ve been trying to practice what we preach,” says Marchesano.

Improving resilience county-wide, promoting more sustainable land conservation and development, and reducing water consumption represent additional areas of strength for San Diego county. Surprisingly, however, the county achieved only average results in the water conservation section of its LEED for Communities scorecard, earning four of a possible 15 credits.

Marchesano was taken aback at the numbers. “We thought we would do better,” he explains. With a slew of ambitious water conservation measures in place, that expectation wasn’t unreasonable. Water-based initiatives in the county include major landscaping changes to eliminate water-intensive schemes, as well as the retrofit of several chilled water plants to cut backwash and associated water loss, combining for savings Marchesano describes as huge. The county has also implemented a stringent water conservation ordinance. “So, it was just kind of odd that we didn’t score that well,” he says.

The problem, according to a performance summary published by the County of San Diego’s Communications Office, was that water use reporting under LEED for Communities is based on estimates of domestic use only, and is limited to the unincorporated area. Data extrapolated from water authority service area population totals excluded commercial and agricultural uses, which meant that many of the county’s water conservation efforts didn’t count. “It threatened to keep us out of Platinum,” says Marchesano, “but at the end of the day, my team figured out how to get there.”

In Marchesano’s view, the foremost benefit of certification is recognition for San Diego’s longstanding, ongoing commitment to sustainability. “I think it incentivized us to keep pushing,” he says. The accolade has also been valuable in raising awareness of the Energy and Sustainability Division’s efforts. “It really helped us get support—more support—from our board,” he says, “which is where the money comes from to keep the momentum going.”

Even with Platinum certification, the County of San Diego won’t be resting on its laurels. The county is moving forward on implementing its renewable energy program, building 13 megawatts of renewable power at its facilities, with projects already complete and several others under construction. At press time, a road map for converting a large portion of the fleet to electric vehicles over the next 10 years was scheduled to go before the board of supervisors in October, as was a proposal to form a community-choice energy entity to increase the availability of renewable power to county residents. “Sustainability’s a big topic,” says Marchesano, “and it’s keeping us very busy.”

Current Issue

Kim Roy
The Health of Our BuildingsRead more
Green Women
Women Leading in Green Around the World Read more
Langford Park Orlando
Orlando: A Model for Urban SustainabilityRead more
Education CornerRead more
Colgate LEED
The Colgate-Palmolive Manufacturing Facility in New Jersey Achieves LEED Zero WasteRead more
The Armory
Heritage Assets: Portland Center Stage at The ArmoryRead more
rachelle schoessler lynn
LEED Fellow: Rachelle Schoessler LynnRead more
Barbara Lawrence
Teaching Sustainability in PrisonsRead more
Modern Office
10 Green Jobs with High Growth Potential Read more
advocacy group photo
Advocacy and Policy UpdateRead more
crane and workers
Sponsored: Construction ContractsRead more

Previous Issues

Ashley Fowler
USGBC's Ashley Fowler on Keeping the Conversation GoingRead more
Seattle Public Market
Baltimore, Seattle and Oakland put environmental and economic justice at the center of their green...Read more
Through public and private leadership, Minnesota and Pennsylvania have made significant leaps in LEED certifications...Read more
EV charging station
Top 10 Green Building products for a changing climateRead more
Discovery Elementary School
First three LEED zero energy projects show the market what’s possibleRead more
Little Rock Station 23
First Responder buildings become leaders in sustainable design across the United StatesRead more
The latest report from C40 Cities is one part call to action and one part...Read more
Sarah Talkington
The manager of Austin Energy Green Building’s commercial team leads the way to provide...Read more
bob berkebilen
Q&A with Bob Berkebile, Chairman of the American Institute of Architects' National Committee on...Read more
Creating a living standardRead more
Living Standard research shows storytelling advances the sustainability conversationRead more
atlanta kids painting wall
Atlanta finds new ways to create a greener, more equitable futureRead more
Jamie Margolin featured image
Jamie Margolin’s climate action movement gathers momentumRead more
Around and Around featured image
Manufacturers use Cradle to Cradle principles to achieve a circular economyRead more
Native American Connections’ LEED Platinum housing supports recoveryRead more
LEED Fellow Daniele Horton helps clients achieve sustainability across portfoliosRead more
Kandeda Building Featured Image
The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable DesignRead more
San Diego County’s energy-saving strategies led to LEED PlatinumRead more
Stargazing featured image
Interface makes rapid progress toward net zero goalsRead more
Nadav Malin
Get to know Nadav Malin of BuildingGreenRead more
Introducing a new way to test your knowledge of the stories and strategies presented in...Read more
From USGBC: Exploring the benefits of green buildings near and farRead more
LEED in your backyard: Sustainable summer vacation destinations in the U.S.Read more
Hawaii: A model state for a sustainable and independent economyRead more
From high-performance buildings to AI technology, California is a hotbed for emerging resilience strategiesRead more
Marriott’s sustainability and social impact program aims for large-scale changeRead more
Chris Ladner, LEED Fellow, puts Arkansas on the sustainability mapRead more
Interface calls for industry collaboration to address embodied carbonRead more
Taipei 101 Tower pushes new heights for super-tall buildings and sustainable artRead more
In conversation with Skanska USA’s Chief Sustainability Officer Elizabeth HeiderRead more
Introducing a new way to test your knowledge of the stories and strategies presented in...Read more
USGBC’s Taryn Holowka on the changing state of the green building industryRead more
Building a sustainability-fluent workforce for Tennessee’s construction sectorRead more
Unveiling RELi 2.0: piloting a new standard for sustainability, resilienceRead more
Advancing healthy interiors with LEED v4.1Read more
Solving for the first/last mile: micro-mobility looks to bridge city transportation gapsRead more
Embracing disruptive design with Leyla AcarogluRead more
The rise of distributed energy: what it means for utilities, consumers and green infrastructureRead more
How LEED Fellow Dana Kose got her unexpected startRead more
Austin storage facility becomes first of its kind to achieve LEED PlatinumRead more
Interview with Bill Browning, partner at Terrapin Bright GreenRead more
Introducing a new way to test your knowledge of the stories and strategies presented in...Read more
LEED’s broad applicability in Europe: from Sweden, to Italy to GermanyRead more
UN Young Leader Karan Jerath on climate changeRead more
LEED Cities shun a one-size-fits all approach to sustainabilityRead more
Schools worldwide achieve sustainability goals through data, experiential learningRead more
What’s next for LEED: v4.1, recertification and LEED ZeroRead more
The four commandments of sustainable co-working spacesRead more
We are still in: USGBC reports back on progress toward Paris commitmentsRead more
LEED’s broad applicability in Europe: from Sweden, to Italy to GermanyRead more
Moving the needle with longtime sustainability leader and LEED Fellow Mary Ann LazarusRead more
The Space Needle completes first phase of Century ProjectRead more
Interview with Dave Witek, COO of Arc Skoru, IncRead more
USGBC’s Mahesh Ramanujam: The future of the human race is intertwined with the planetRead more
The Windy City embraces its environmental legacy ahead of Greenbuild 2018Read more
Interface’s Climate Take Back Initiative Aims to Reverse Global Warming, One Tile at a...Read more
EPA grants millions in funding to research green building impacts on health, performance in schoolsRead more
Survey says: Employees are happier, healthier and more productive in LEED buildings Read more
Eternally green: Bala Cynwyd cemetery achieves SITES certification for sustainable landscape design Read more
A look at how McDonald’s, Bank of America, and Colgate-Palmolive are advancing UN SDGs...Read more
New York native Harry Gordon: Architect, advocate and green building legendRead more
New USGBC-commissioned case study examines Boston’s resilience, emergency preparednessRead more
Chicago’s theMART leverages the Arc platform as it eyes a new LEED certificationRead more
Interview with Wight and Company’s chief sustainability officer Lois Vitt SaleRead more
NYC chief sustainability officer talks energy innovation in the Big AppleRead more
Costa Rica’s LEED-certified Olas Verdes surf hotel gives local community an economic boostRead more
As South Africa’s water crisis continues, the nation’s building industry pushes for conservation...Read more
A new wave of activists and businesses is tackling food waste worldwideRead more
The tiny house movement goes mobile in Florida with help from volunteers Read more
NYU Langone Health overhauls its power system, emphasizing resilience using PEERRead more
Intel, Autodesk making inroads in industry, innovation and infrastructure Read more
LEED pilot credit for building materials helps clarify potential health, safety and environmental impacts Read more
Kath Williams: A self-proclaimed 'old-fashioned' Montana girl’s journey into sustainabilityRead more
Go inside the LEED Platinum home of actor and activist Ed Begley Jr.Read more
Interview with Lance Hosey, architect and LEED FellowRead more
Mayor Bowser’s vision for a green D.C.Read more
Industry leaders sound off on the trajectory of the U.S. green building marketRead more
New streamlining for building code makes it easier to achieve green projectsRead more
Designing for human health is the next frontier in sustainable buildingRead more
Educators eye green building strategies to enhance K-12 curriculum, career preparationRead more
Saint Paul is on the cutting edge of decarbonizationRead more
MARS tackles quality of life challenges for farmers in alignment with U.N. Sustainable Development...Read more
For schools, net zero energy design provides more than cost-saving benefitsRead more
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has been in existence for 25 years, and Leadership...Read more
High-performing, energy-efficient homes dominate millennial real estate marketRead more
Interview with Emily Pilloton, Founder and Executive Director, Project H Design/Girls GarageRead more
USGBC’s certification programs encourage innovation in sustainability on a much broader scale than ever...Read more
In coastal Vina del Mar, the fuel and energy company COPEC SA is working with...Read more
Mirabella, a new community in Florida, creates 158 sustainable houses specified to USGBC’s highest standards.Read more
LEED On letter from Rep. Chris LeeRead more
HP creates a breathtaking and sustainable landscape for its Boise campusRead more
Toyota’s new Lone Star State headquarters showcases the company’s singular vision of sustainabilityRead more
Rhode Island takes another huge step toward expanding its green infrastructureRead more
Q & A with Andy To, managing director of GBCI North AsiaRead more