Write your Congressperson

If we want to improve our energy situation, we should at least think about prioritizing our efforts. There is an army of committed people (only some of whom should really be committed) writing about energy production. I’m not one of them. While they are fighting about the relative goodness of biofuels when compared to hydroelectricity or the purity of solar when compared to nuclear, I’m concerned about energy consumption.

If we want to make a difference in energy consumption, it makes sense to go after the largest consumer. And the biggest energy consumer in the world by far is the U.S. Federal Government. Everybody knows our military uses a lot of energy. Everybody understands that the U.S. Postal Service drives a lot of miles. Some people even pay attention to the number of trips the President takes on Air Force One.

The government owns or manages more than 900,000 buildings or other structures across the country — office buildings, courthouses, warehouses and other property types — making it the nation’s largest landlord.  Two-thirds are military buildings, most of that being housing and barracks.

Buildings use 37% of all the energy consumed in the United States. (And they waste about a third of what they use.)

There are 17 different Federal programs designed to help federal buildings get greener. Might be a surplus of programs.

Where they’ve been implemented, they’ve worked. Buildings that have adopted the various programs have indeed reduced energy by 31.3% relative to the 1985 starting point. Just gotta spread that best practice around. And a little green stuff.

The one thing my research didn’t uncover is a way of spreading best practice to the rest of us–reducing energy consumption in buildings should start with the biggest consumer–it doesn’t really have to stop there…

President Obama said, ““As the largest consumer of energy in the U.S. economy, the federal government can and should lead by example when it comes to creating innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency, conserve water, reduce waste, and use environmentally responsible products and technologies.”

The Federal Government was mandated to reduce their energy use relative to 1985 by 35% by 2010. They didn’t make it. Their report card says they reduced energy intensity by 23%. Different metric, wrong percentage.

They know what to do: “The new General Services Administration Federal Building in San Francisco will feature windows that open, shared spaces between offices, lots of natural light, and many energy saving measures. The building has been designed to reduce energy costs by 45 percent and is expected to save $500,000 per year in taxpayer dollars.”

But the Federal Government has the same problem that you and I do. Investing in energy efficiency is a great idea until it’s time to write the check. Even if the payback period is short–and it’s often as short as 8 years, whether it’s for your solar panels or their triple glazed windows with photovoltaics included, there always seems to be something more urgent to do with your cash on hand. And, just like you, the Federal Government isn’t too enthusiastic about increasing its debt for… energy efficiency… too geekish, I guess.

2 responses to “Write your Congressperson

  1. charles the moderator

    When I spoke with a Labor Department worker at the building (who noted that she is encountering the type of bad work conditions that her agency is supposed to enforce against), she confirmed what might have been an urban legend: that some employees must use umbrellas to keep the sun out of their cubicles.

    The lack of internal climate controls has left some workers too cold and others too hot. A happy medium has proved elusive. And while the managers’ offices do have heat and air conditioning — a two-tiered approach fitting in a building named for Bush — the “green” design apparently has messed with the effectiveness of these systems, leaving these top staff as physically uncomfortable as the line workers

    But the project’s failure to satisfy LEED’s scoring system is not the problem. Rather, it is that the federal government spent millions over budget to create a building that does not provide a minimally satisfactory work environment.

    And the project’s huge cost overruns and functional inadequacies have apparently been ignored solely due to excitement over its “Green” stature.


  2. Alex Heyworth

    Unless the Federal government’s energy usage calculations include the embedded energy in building materials and fittings (which I suspect they do not) they are useless and misleading. Ignore these factors and you can knock down your old building, erect a new “energy efficient” one and give yourself a big, but undeserved, pat on the back.

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