CR Puts Greening Effort on Hold

Posted September 28, 2007 at 6:23pm

The effort to make the House of Representatives carbon neutral by the end of the 110th Congress has hit a roadblock — the Senate.

Today was supposed to be the day that the House began supplying 100 percent of its electricity needs through renewable power sources. The cost premium to purchase power generated from renewable sources is $520,000 — money included in the fiscal 2008 appropriations bill.

While the measure passed the House in June, its companion legislation lingers in the Senate, preventing House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard from kick-starting the renewable energy effort.

“Until the president signs the approps bill, we don’t have the money,” CAO spokesman Jeff Ventura said Friday. “So all that renewable energy is on hold, deadlines be damned.”

Today’s deadline is set in the Green the Capitol Initiative, which Beard presented to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in June.

(Today is also the first day of the fiscal year. Most federal programs and agencies now are operating under a continuing resolution that keeps fiscal 2007 funding levels in effect.)

The greening initiative seeks to make House operations carbon neutral by the end of the 110th Congress, reduce the carbon footprint of the House by 50 percent in 10 years and make the House a model of sustainability.

Renewable energy sources, such as wind, water and solar power, come from resources that cannot be depleted. These sources have been shown to produce fewer greenhouse gases and other pollutants compared to fossil fuels.

Purchasing renewable power for electricity use is a component of the three-part plan to make the House carbon neutral by the end of 2008. The other methods involve using natural gas to operate the Capitol Power Plant and purchasing carbon offsets from the Chicago Climate Exchange.

While the Capitol Power Plant produces the steam used to heat and cool the Capitol complex, Congress purchases its electricity needs from local distributor Pepco.

That electricity is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions generated from the operations of the House.

The chamber uses about 103,000 megawatt hours of electricity per year. Approximately 43 percent of the 91,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions produced by the House come from electricity, according to the greening report.

But by using power generated from renewable sources, the House buildings are expected to eliminate 57,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to removing 11,000 cars from the road, according to the report.

CAO and Architect of the Capitol officials already have prepared the contract with Pepco to use wind power to keep things up and running, according to Perry Plumart, deputy director of the CAO’s Green the Capitol office.

(Officials went with wind power because in the mid-Atlantic region, water and solar power are not easy to find, Plumart explained.)

“This is something they can do for us relatively easily,” Ventura said. “But this is costly upfront.”

Although the startup takes money, officials have predicted the House will save dollars in the long run because the House is implementing energy conservation plans.

“Doing these kinds of things makes good business sense,” Plumart said. “It’s good for the taxpayers and it’s good public policy.”

While electricity needs generate the bulk of the chamber’s carbon dioxide emissions, coal burned at the Capitol Power Plant adds to the problem. The plant currently uses a mix of coal, oil and natural fuel, depending on which energy source is the most affordable at any given time.

About one-third of the emissions generated on Capitol Hill come from the power plant. In fiscal 2006, the plant produced 102,659 metric tons of emissions, according to a Government Accountability Office report released earlier this year.

The CAO’s green report estimates that switching to natural gas would eliminate more than 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions and reduce more than 95 percent of sulfur oxides and 50 percent of nitrogen oxides emitted by the plant.

The cost to switch from coal and oil to natural gas in fiscal 2008 is listed as $2.75 million in the greening report. That money too has been included in the appropriations bill, and it too lingers until the measure becomes law, Plumart said.

Even if the first two recommendations are implemented, the House still would produce 24,000 tons of carbon emissions. To offset those emissions, Beard is recommending that “carbon credits” be purchased through the Chicago Climate Exchange program, which would use the money specifically for environmental projects in the United States.

The paperwork is being prepared for that effort and offsets are expected to be purchased later this month, Ventura said.