The first session this afternoon (or, more properly, my first session this afternoon) had the provocative title "Is LEED Affordable?" Provocative, but somewhat tipping their hand in that two of the three presenters were from an architectural firm, and they wouldn't be presenting on that topic if their answer were "no".
Foreshadowing aside, though, the information was quite interesting. Data on four major construction projects, including two recreation centers and an engineering lab (all traditional energy hogs). Construction cost numbers. LEED premium estimates. Post-occupancy satisfaction surveys. Energy savings and payback period calculations.
In a nutshell, the LEED construction premium, including all documentation and design fees, was estimated at 1-2% for LEED certified or LEED silver. Maybe a bit more for LEED gold. Probably more for LEED platinum, but there's not a lot of data on that yet. Payback periods in the 2-4 year range. (So, as anticipated, the answer is in the positive.)
More interesting, to someone with no particular background in architecture or building engineering, was the discussion about predictive performance models such as ASHRAE 90.1-1999 and Labs 21. The general pattern was that actual LEED buildings outperform (use less energy than) predicted by the existing crop of models, even when the specific LEED features are factored into those models.
So, in addition to answering the title question, the session provided some procedural recommendations. If you're going to the trouble of considering LEED (and, given those numbers, you certainly should be), make sure you put in submeters for both electricity and water. Make sure those meters, and all your other sensors, are operating properly and recording their data into your building management database. Go back, once you've got a year or two of data under your belt, and recalibrate the building. Go back, once you've got a few buildings under your belt, and recalibrate the models you're using. By this approach, you'll both utilize the equipment you buy to its maximum potential and gain the ability to optimize future equipment (heating, chilling, ventilation, lighting, you name it) selections.
On a side note, one logistics problem at this conference is that the only Internet connection available is far removed from the conference sessions. As a result, I gotta run. More later.