Greening of Capitol Continues

New Energy-Efficient Lighting On Tap for Dome

Posted October 2, 2009 at 7:02pm

On a stormy night earlier this summer, a few House employees hauled lighting fixtures to the top of the Capitol, aimed them at the Dome and switched them on to get a glimpse at how energy-efficient lighting would display Congress’ most well-known symbol.

“It was the worst out,— said Allison Rogers, program manager of the Green the Capitol Program in the Office of Chief Administrative Officer. “But it still looked amazing.—Relighting the Dome is one of the bigger projects under Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) Green the Capitol Initiative. It’s also probably one of the House’s more expensive endeavors; though officials declined to give a price tag, the design alone cost more than $600,000.

Officials hope to complete the project within the next year, along with a slew of other initiatives aimed at making Congress as energy-efficient as possible. The efforts will cost at least $7 million in fiscal 2010 — and probably closer to $9 million if the Dome’s light fixtures are replaced. A private company will pump another $34 million into energy-efficient renovations under a contract with the Architect of the Capitol that allows the House to spread the cost (plus interest) over 16 years.

All told, that’s more than $40 million to turn Congress into a shining example of energy efficiency. But House officials say the changes will also save millions of dollars in energy costs and untold amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and electricity.

For Pelosi, it’s also a way to showcase effective energy initiative to the country. At a news conference Friday heralding the fact that the Congressional Record will be printed on 100 percent recycled paper, she called Congress’ greening efforts “part of our leadership role to lead by example.—

As for concrete results, recently installed meters have already shown the energy savings — and pointed out where energy was being wasted, said Bob Lane, executive director of the Green the Capitol Program. Workers can then pinpoint where steam is leaking, for example, and cut down on waste.

“Now we have all this data. I’m not a person who typically gets excited about data,— he said, sounding excited. “But now we can really see where we are losing energy.—

Lane and Rogers also have focused their attention on making Member offices more energy-efficient, going door-to-door with a punch list of cheap suggestions such as printing two-sided and turning off the lights. They are also consolidating computer servers, removing the individual servers in each Member office and replacing it with space on several large servers in the Ford House Office Building. So far, they’ve converted 115 offices; when they get to 150, Lane estimated the savings would be $900,000.

Their other priority is replacing the Dome’s lighting — a project that began two years ago. With the final design complete, CAO officials are working with the Architect of the Capitol on a construction plan and hope to soon get the approval of the Senate and House oversight committees. The AOC, Lane said, has the funding available to move forward.

Once complete, the new lights will use 70 percent less energy than the ones currently used, which were installed 25 years ago, Rogers said.

“It really brings out those details and really makes a striking lighting design,— she said. “It’s the last national monument on the Mall that really hasn’t been subjected to relighting.—

But the relighting and other greening projects are sure to receive some GOP criticism along the way. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has estimated that the cost of relighting the Dome won’t be paid back in energy costs for 50 years, and Republicans on the House Administration Committee have questioned the CAO’s latest push for “energy demonstration projects.—

The 2010 legislative branch spending bill includes $2.5 million for the “demo projects— on new energy technologies. The details are not yet known; CAO spokesman Jeff Ventura said that ideas include fuel cell, wind turbine and lighting projects that would be installed in limited areas.

Such projects are important, he said, “because as the House deals with climate change and green jobs legislation, we are looking to demonstrate that innovative technology, invented by American companies, works in reducing consumption, increasing energy efficiency and providing power in a more sustainable manner.—

Similarly, House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) said the projects “make the House a model in the public and private sectors.— But Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who sits on the House Administration Committee, railed against the appropriation in a statement Friday.

“While I believe that the AOC must continue to explore existing and proven technologies to further reduce energy consumption in the most cost-effective manner, I strongly oppose authorizing millions for mere Congressional demonstration projects — especially when Congress is not even the leader in innovative green technology,— he said. “Congress should instead focus on reprioritizing taxpayer money to create jobs and pay down the massive new debt created since the Administration took office.—