Owners and operators of commercial buildings in West Windsor Township have been receiving official looking letters this week — no, they are not announcing a property tax increase or a new municipal regulation.

The communication from the township, signed by Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh, announces an imminent survey by the Rutgers Center for Green Building to “help private commercial building owners and managers interested in exploring enhancements to their buildings to save on operating costs and reduce energy use benefiting both the building owners and West Windsor Township. The center will use the survey to help a participating building owner discover enhancements that may be incentivized to reduce or cover the costs of the upgrades.”

The letter added that “the township will not be reviewing or using the survey in any way” and that “this survey is entirely voluntary and fully funded by grant to the Rutgers Center for Green Building.”

The funds for the Rutgers program come from a $129 million, five-year Department of Energy initiative involving universities and companies as well as interested private parties. The Rutgers Center for Green Building (RCGB) has funding to provide technical resources, staff time, and technical support to help the township and inform business owners on how to attain money through state programs that exist.

A representative from the RCGB told the West Windsor Council last fall that the focus for the initiative came from the fact that the building sector has been slower to decrease its energy consumption than other sectors (such as automotive, aircraft, and locomotive) and the Department of Energy outlined the need to appeal to builders.

“What this recognizes is that the part of the country we are talking about is largely built-out: there’s a large existing building stock and a lot of it is very inefficient, and there are a lot of barriers to improving energy efficiency in these buildings. Those barriers are market-based, policy-based, and technologically-based,” said Jennifer Senick.

Speaking at a township environmental commission last fall Senick said the program has high hopes for West Windsor. “One of the recommendations was that if an existing commercial building was being renovated more than 50 percent of its square footage, let’s see if we can get that building up to an EnergyStar portfolio manager’s score of 75, meaning it would be in the top 25 percent of other buildings that are its cohort (same type or built in the same year). In pursuing something like this, we would have to tell private sector owners about the incentives available to help them get there,” she said.

Senick advised that a municipality such as West Windsor can help educate builders who might come in for a permit. “It’s actually a service to tell them that for what they are planning to do, they could get money for it, especially if what they are doing can be featured as a success,” she said.

As part of the program graduate students from Rutgers’ Bloustein School came to West Windsor last fall and worked with the environmental commission to identify 274 commercial properties — mostly constructed in the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s — that might especially benefit from improvements in energy efficiency. Elements pertaining to the interior of commercial properties, such as indoor lighting and fixtures inside the building, are the primary focus points of the Rutgers initiative.

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