A big change has come to publicly funded building projects in Washington, DC, effective October 1st. Last year, the Council of the District of Columbia passed the Greener Government Buildings Amendment Act of 2022 (GGBA), amending the landmark 2006 Green Building Act to require additional green building features for government buildings and other publicly funded projects. Although the GGBA was passed in December of 2022 and went into effect in March of this year, it was not funded in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget and therefore was not implemented at that time. GGBA funding was incorporated into the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, setting the stage for the GGBA to be implemented beginning October 1st. Since the District government is still working out how the implementation will take shape, we provide herein a high-level overview of current status and identify open questions still in play; we will continue to update this resource as additional information becomes available.
What’s in the GGBA?
The biggest change introduced in the GGBA is that publicly funded projects are required to “maintain net zero energy compliance” as defined by DC law.
There is also language establishing a Sustainability and Energy division at the Department of General Services (DGS), allowing DGS to implement and oversee sustainability efforts at District-owned properties, which includes net zero energy compliance as established in the GGBA.
How does DC define net zero?
The GGBA indicates that net zero energy compliance “means compliance with a net-zero energy standard, as that term is defined in section 2(a)(3) of the Clean Energy DC Building Code Amendment Act of 2022, effective September 21, 2022 (D.C. Law 24-177; D.C. Official Code § 6-1453.01(a)(3)).”
In simpler terms, this means that a project will have to meet the requirements outlined in Appendix Z of the 2017 District of Columbia Energy Conservation Code, with some additional conditions specified in the Clean Energy DC Building Code Amendment Act. Appendix Z provides a pathway to net zero energy operations by requiring projects to implement energy conservation measures to significantly reduce energy consumption, employ all-electric building systems, and utilize renewable energy sources to meet the annual energy demand of the building.
A note on Appendix Z: While its provisions are currently voluntary, these measures will become mandatory for all new construction and for any substantial improvements of covered buildings by the end of 2026, according to the Clean Energy DC Building Code Amendment Act of 2022 unless the Mayor passes other regulations governing net zero energy standards. In effect, the GGBA accelerates this requirement for publicly owned and funded buildings.
On-site renewable energy systems are encouraged, and The Clean Energy DC Building Code Amendment Act of 2022 requires their use “whenever feasible.” For example, new project design should consider making rooftop space available for solar photovoltaic production.
Off-site renewable energy can be used; however, there are limitations on what is considered acceptable for the purposes of Appendix Z and the Building Code Amendment Act, or as approved by the code official. The following factors govern the use of off-site renewable energy:
- Renewable energy must be procured from a qualified electricity supplier providing energy from Tier 1 renewable sources meeting DC’s Renewable Portfolio Standard requirements.
- Renewable energy must be procured via a power purchase agreement for a minimum of 5 years for electricity generation from solar or wind facilities located in DC, Maryland, or Virginia.
- Renewable energy cannot be unbundled renewable energy credits.
- Alternatives exist for connections to renewable energy microgrids or low-carbon neighborhood thermal energy systems.
Appendix Z does not allow for on-site combustion of fossil fuels for thermal energy (ambient heating/cooling and domestic water heating). All new projects will be required to utilize all-electric design in order to meet the requirements of the GGBA. That said, this “thermal energy” restriction does not impact the fuel source for backup-power generation; there may also be other situations that vary as specified by the code official.
What Projects does this Impact?
New and substantially improved projects owned by the District government or a District instrumentality are required to meet the conditions of the legislation.
District Instrumentality Financed
New and substantially improved projects that receive at least 15% of their funding from District sources will also need to follow the requirements of the GGBA. These projects are considered “District-financed” or “District instrumentality-financed” as defined by the Green Building Act. DC considers projects that receive some federal grants administered by the District government as instrumentality financed, so even if a project is not funded directly by the District government it could still fall under this category. Some examples of District instrumentality financed projects include:
- Projects receiving a tax abatement or exemption.
- Projects that are part of a land transfer, or land disposition and development agreement.
- Projects that receive tax increment financing.
- Projects that receive financing specifically for new construction or substantial rehabilitation of affordable housing, including Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC).
These provisions mean that some projects that are substantially privately financed, including multifamily projects that receive tax abatements or are affected by land-transfer agreements, may be required to meet the requirements of the GGBA. If you believe your project may be impacted by the requirements of the GGBA, we recommend you consult legal counsel and coordinate with District officials to officially determine the status of your project.
Impacts of emergency legislation
The Council recently passed emergency legislation known as the Green Housing Transition Emergency Amendment Act of 2023. This bill was designed to assist affordable housing projects with the potential costs associated with meeting the net zero requirements established by the GGBA. Therefore, affordable housing projects that receive a commitment from the DC government for financing prior to December 31st are exempted from the net zero requirements established in the GGBA. However, this emergency legislation expired on October 8th, so it is unclear as to whether projects that receive a commitment for financing between October 8th and December 31st will be required to meet the net zero requirements outlined in the GGBA. Given the intent of the emergency legislation, it is likely these dates will be extended, but additional details are not known at this time.
No other property types are exempted at this time, meaning that new and substantially improved market rate multifamily projects, public charter schools, and other projects receiving at least 15% public funding as defined by the Green Building Act will be required to follow the GGBA beginning on October 1st.
How will the GGBA be implemented?
Unfortunately, at present we aren’t sure how the GGBA will be implemented and enforced. Based on our reading of the text of the GGBA, we believe that the newly codified Sustainability and Energy division at DGS will be responsible for implementing the net zero requirements for District-owned buildings. However, we also envision that the Department of Buildings (DOB) and Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) will need to be involved to ensure that projects going through building-permit review are appropriately vetted to ensure that all net zero requirements are being met. We will continue to update this resource as more information becomes available.
What does ALL this mean for my project that is currently in design?
As noted above, the District government is still working to determine how the legislation will be implemented and enforced. Thus, there is some ambiguity as to how the new requirements will impact projects currently in design, or those requesting building permits over the next few months. We do know that the GBBA signifies a significant change in green building requirements for publicly funded projects that must be considered going forward. We also point out that, historically, the DOB has established a “grandfather” period of at least 12 months for projects currently under design to submit for permitting, which could influence how the regulations are enforced. We will update this resource as more information becomes available regarding implementation timelines.
How do I get more information?
Official resources related to the GGBA are available at the links below:
- Greener Government Buildings Amendment Act
- Green Housing Transition Emergency Amendment Act
- Permanent Green Building Requirements for Public Projects
- Temporary Green Building Requirements for Public Projects
- DC Renewable Portfolio Standard
- DC Green Building Act
- 2017 District of Columbia Energy Conservation Code (with Appendix Z)
The Hub will continue to monitor developments with the rollout of the GGBA and will update our resources as needed to convey the latest information.
To help project teams understand the specific DOB-enforced green building requirements that may be applicable to their building projects, the Hub is creating a wizard to help navigate the Green Building Act, including the GGBA, and Green Construction Code requirements.