Oberstar Seeks Hill Energy Options

Posted February 18, 2005 at 5:43pm

Could the Capitol Power Plant one day be replaced by wind turbines on the East Front lawn?

Probably not, but, under legislation introduce in the House last week, Congressional officials could soon be studying more subtle means of integrating alternative energy sources to power the Capitol campus

Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is the author of a bill that calls on the Architect of the Capitol to conduct a study of the current energy infrastructure and evaluate whether “unconventional” sources — such as photovoltaic solar energy systems — could be used to improve energy efficiency.

The provision is included in the Securing Transportation Energy Efficiency for Tomorrow Act, a wide-ranging bill that seeks to improve energy efficiency in federal facilities as well as transportation systems.

A spokesman for the Minnesota lawmaker acknowledged such a study would not be likely to call for highly visible changes to the Capitol grounds. “I’m sure the Congress isn’t thinking about putting solar panels on the Dome or a wind turbine on the Statue of Freedom,” said the spokesman, Jim Berard.

But the study could result in less conspicuous installations, such as the use of solar panels on the Rayburn House Office Building roof. “There’s only so much you can do with [the Capitol], without hurting it aesthetically,” Berard added.

An AOC spokeswoman said the office has not conducted any previous studies about the potential use of alternative energy.

Oberstar introduced a near-identical bill in the 108th Congress; however, it died in committee. A similar provision was also included in the House’s Energy Policy Act of 2004, but that bill failed to garner support in the Senate.

Currently, no alternative energy sources are in place on the Capitol grounds, according to the Architect’s office. The complex receives its electrical power from private companies, such as Pepco. Additionally, the Capitol Power Plant, located on E Street Southeast at New Jersey Avenue, provides steam heat and chilled water to the Capitol campus and also provides those services at a fee to the Supreme Court, Library of Congress and Union Station.