Explore how Architects are joining the clean energy generation to help lead the Southeast into a clean and sustainable future.Julian Harden | October 9, 2023
On September 17th, SACE gave a presentation hosted at the Atlanta Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), focusing on how architects can play a positive role in achieving an equitable clean energy transition by leveraging the federal government’s extensive investment in clean energy through legislation enacted over the past two years. The event was an exciting exchange of ideas, emphasizing architects’ significant roles in reshaping the urban landscape of the Southeast with sustainability and equity in mind.
Clean Buildings: Building with Sustainability in Mind
Architects and building professionals have a crucial role in achieving an equitable clean energy transition. By understanding the benefits of clean energy and what funding sources are available, they can inform their clients about opportunities available for both new developments and retrofit projects. This is especially significant in areas designated for receiving notable investments through the Biden Administration’s Justice40 initiative, which aims to ensure that 40% of the benefits from national clean energy and climate investments reach disadvantaged communities disproportionately affected by environmental and socioeconomic challenges.
The current slate of federal tax incentives, grants, and upcoming rebate programs can apply to many projects, bringing energy savings and health benefits to building owners and occupants. The bonus credits with some provisions are directed at specific communities and applications. Anyone wishing to take advantage of tax credits should consult a tax professional to determine eligibility.
One of the key takeaways from the event was the significant opportunity to utilize federal funding from the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 (IRA and BIL) to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency for existing and new buildings. Residents, businesses, schools, local governments, and non-profit organizations can now access federal funding for energy-efficient upgrades to their facilities, improving the lives and well-being of their occupants.
Financial Incentives for Clean Buildings
These incentives include tax credits for retrofitting commercial buildings, making energy improvements in single- and multi-family homes, installing solar and battery systems, and building new energy-efficient homes, as well as specific credits for affordable housing. The tax incentives in IRA are geared toward promoting cleaner, more energy-efficient building structures, including Section 179D for energy efficiency in commercial buildings, Section 48 for commercial solar, 25C for home energy efficiency, 25D for residential solar and batteries, 45L for new homes, and 30C for electric vehicle chargers.
Federal rebates will become available next year for high-efficiency electric appliances and energy retrofits, targeting low- and moderate-income households, paving the way for a greener and more sustainable future. State energy offices for participating states (including Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee) are in the process of implementing the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Home Energy Rebate program. In some states, rebates are expected to be available starting in the fall of 2024.
Grant programs are also available to support investment in improving energy efficiency and clean energy upgrades to buildings such as schools and non-profits. For instance, Riverview Elementary School in Memphis, TN, was awarded a $9.5M grant through the Renew America’s Schools program in June 2023, funded via BIL. This infusion of funds enables crucial energy efficiency upgrades, including enhanced HVAC systems, energy-efficient lighting, eco-friendly windows, and a solar energy array. Such improvements foster healthier learning environments while reducing utility costs—a win-win for students, taxpayers, and the environment.
Non-profit organizations, too, are seizing the opportunity to enhance their energy efficiency, marking a significant step toward a more sustainable and equitable future. Through Renew America’s Non-profits program, non-profit organizations nationwide can apply for grants of up to $200,000 for energy efficiency projects. DOE is currently selecting 5-15 larger non-profits as prime recipients to manage a portfolio of sub-recipients of smaller nonprofits, focusing on reducing energy costs and carbon emissions and improving the well-being of non-profit employees. DOE is set to announce prime recipients in October 2023.
Real-world success stories like Riverview Elementary demonstrate how these technologies and resources are now more available and feasible than ever. Architects and developers can play a key role by planning now to ensure that their projects are positioned to take advantage of tax credits available for specific applications and areas.
Architecture and Equity
Our presentation underscored the fundamental importance of centering progress around equity. It is not enough to embrace clean energy; the clean energy transformation must include all, particularly low-income and communities of color. This commitment is embodied in the Biden Administration’s Justice40 initiative. Utilizing the Climate and Economic Justice Screening tool, we can identify the neighborhoods that require prioritization in clean energy and sustainability investments. With several Justice40-designated areas, Atlanta is poised to harness current federal investment in clean energy to help address standing inequities.
Join the Clean Energy Generation Movement
Architects and building professionals are in a unique position to utilize newly available funding to advance clean energy by improving the efficiency of the buildings we inhabit and designing the healthy communities we envision. However, people in all vocations and from all backgrounds – regardless of age, income, zip code, or abilities – have a role to play in the clean energy transition. Together, the Clean Energy Generation movement is taking action to create healthier communities and a more secure and sustainable environment, starting now. Join us on this transformative journey and we’ll share ideas, resources, tools, and practices to demonstrate how each of us can contribute to this vital transformation.