Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Economic Benefits of Trails, Parks, and Open Space in the Mat-Su Borough

Community assets such as trails, parks and public open space provide numerous  benefits of both economic and social value. These assets provide recreational  opportunities for residents, helping people to stay healthy and happy as access  to spaces for exercise increases physical activity and reduces medical expenses.  Recreation also stimulates the economy through the purchase of gear for activities,  services and guided tours. This economic activity creates jobs in recreational sales,  the hotel industry, tourism, and more. Public spaces enable all of these benefits  to happen. Without access to trails, parks and open space, these benefits would  be greatly diminished. This report summarizes the return on investment for these  community assets in the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Basin of south-central Alaska.  Both social and economic benefits are covered in this report. Social benefits  encompass recreation, tourism, human health, public safety, subsistence, and  cultural and historical benefits. Economic benefits include those from businesses,  tax revenues, and taxpayer savings.
[The study finds]:
  • Opportunities for physical activity in open spaces can decrease both health care  costs and   productivity losses, leading to more than $3 million in savings annually.
  • The high cost of natural disaster recoveries, not to mention the loss of human life,  can be  minimized with well-planned open space preservation.
  • The estimated annual value of ecosystem services of the 1,438 acres of Mat-Su  Borough owned recreational land is over $1.8 million.
While the figures above paint a positive image of Mat-Su public open spaces, the ROI  analysis was crucial to determine the actual costs and benefits of spending money to  enhance and preserve open space in the Mat-Su. As Chapter 5 details, we reached  a result of a 5.31 return on investment for the Mat-Su Borough owned lands alone, meaning that for every dollar that the Borough invests in open spaces, the payoff is more than $5, an astoundingly good return.
by Maya Kocian
Earth Economics
December 11, 2015
The Full report is available free of charge at

LEED Certification of Campus Buildings: A Cost-Benefit Approach

This is the first comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) buildings certified within the higher education sector. Sixteen institutions of higher education (IHEs) were surveyed with the findings focused on the upfront green premium and down the line energy savings. The net present value (NPV), internal rate of return (IRR), and discounted payback period were calculated to determine the financial feasibility of LEED certified buildings within the higher education sector. The findings indicate mixed results when looking at the projects from both an upfront construction cost and full lifecycle perspective.
The relationship between LEED level and energy savings per square foot per year was reviewed after removing the outlier of $42.37/sf. As Exhibit 3 illustrates, there is no relationship between LEED  level and energy savings per square foot per year. The lowest annual energy savings $/sf were LEED level platinum buildings and the highest annual energy savings $/sf was a LEED level gold building.

LEED Gold Searle Chemistry Lab at the University of Chicago with green roof
In order to address the second research question of lifecycle energy benefits versus the upfront costs of LEED-certified campus buildings, a net cost-benefit analysis was performed. Calculating project performance criteria was done using NPV, IRR, and the discounted payback period for each survey with a discount rate of 3.5% and a building lifecycle of 25 years. The NPV, IRR. and discounted payback period for each of the 16 surveys are shown in Exhibit 4. NPVs ranged from $232.20 to  $698.32. IRRs ranged from 20.18% to 51.02%. The discounted payback period ranged from 0 years to 10.48 years. There were 10 surveys where the discounted payback period was not calculated as it exceeded the building lifecycle cutoff of 25 years.
Previous studies have failed to focus on the higher education sector as it relates to LEED-certified buildings. Therefore, there was limited literature and data on the subject. However, when reviewing the literature, the results showed an upfront green premium of $0–$9/sf. For the annual energy  savings, results ranged from $0.10 to $2/sf. The results for the green premium ranged from $0.00/sf to $235.00/sf. When the outlier is removed, the green premium ranged from $0.00/sf to $12.00/sf. 

The annual energy savings ranged from $0.17/sf to $42.37/sf. When the outlier was removed, the annual energy savings ranged from $0.17/sf to $0.75/sf. When comparing the existing results to the  current results without the outliers, they seem to be somewhat in line.

There were two extremely high outliers in this study. Firstly, there was a green premium reported of $235/sf. The respondent may have answered in a different measurement versus dollar per square foot. That is why the median was used in this case. Secondly, there was an annual energy savings of  $42.37/sf reported.

Wind and solar boost cost-competitiveness versus fossil fuels

This year has brought a significant shift in the generating cost comparison between renewable energy and fossil fuels, according to detailed analysis by technology and region, published this week by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The research company’s Levelised Cost of Electricity Update for the second half of 2015, based on thousands of data points related to individual deals and projects around the world, shows that onshore wind and crystalline silicon photovoltaics – the two most widespread renewable technologies – have both reduced costs this year, while costs have gone up for gas-fired and coal-fired generation.

The BNEF study shows that the global average levelised cost of electricity, or LCOE, for onshore wind nudged downwards from $85 per megawatt-hour in the first half of the year, to $83 in H2, while that for crystalline silicon PV solar fell from $129 to $122.

In the same period, the LCOE for coal-fired generation increased from $66 per MWh to $75 in the Americas, from $68 to $73 in Asia-Pacific, and from $82 to $105 in Europe. The LCOE for combined-cycle gas turbine generation rose from $76 to $82 in the Americas, from $85 to $93 in Asia-Pacific and from $103 to $118 in EMEA.

US energy LCOE

Seb Henbest, head of Europe, Middle East and Africa at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, commented: “Our report shows wind and solar power continuing to get cheaper in 2015, helped by cheaper technology but also by lower finance costs. Meanwhile, coal and gas have got more expensive on the back of lower utilisation rates, and in Europe, higher carbon price assumptions following passage of the Market Stability Reserve reform.”

Levelised costs take into account not just the cost of generating a marginal MWh of electricity, but also the upfront capital and development expense, the cost of equity and debt finance, and operating and maintenance fees.

Among other low-carbon energy technologies, offshore wind reduced its global average LCOE from $176 per MWh, to $174, but still remains significantly more expensive than wind, solar PV, coal or gas, while biomass incineration saw its levelised cost stay steady at $134 per MWh. Nuclear, like coal and gas, has very different LCOE levels from one region of the world to another, but both the Americas and the Europe, Middle East and Africa region saw increases in levelised costs, to $261 and $158 per MWh respectively.

Among the country-level findings of the BNEF study are that onshore wind is now fully cost-competitive with both gas-fired and coal-fired generation, once carbon costs are taken into account, in the UK and Germany. In the UK, onshore wind comes in on average at $85 per MWh in the second half of 2015, compared to $115 for combined-cycle gas and $115 for coal-fired power; in Germany, onshore wind is at $80, compared to $118 for gas and $106 for coal. 

In China, onshore wind is cheaper than gas-fired power, at $77 per MWh versus $113, but it is much more expensive still than coal-generated electricity, at $44, while solar PV power is at $109. In the US, coal and gas are still cheaper, at $65 per MWh, against onshore wind at $80 and PV at $107.

Luke Mills, analyst, energy economics at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said: “Generating costs continue to vary greatly from region to region, reflecting influences such as the shale gas boom in the US, changing utilisation rates in areas of high renewables penetration, the shortage of local gas production in East Asia, carbon prices in Europe, differing regulations on nuclear power across the world, and contrasting resources for solar generation.

“But onshore wind and solar PV are both now much more competitive against the established generation technologies than would have seemed possible only five or 10 years ago.”

Bloomberg New Energy Finance
Press Release dated October 6, 2016