‘Green New Deal’ efficiency goals ‘reasonable’ — feds

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2018

Energy efficiency goals in the proposed “Green New Deal” are “reasonable,” representatives from the Department of Energy and other federal agencies told House lawmakers yesterday.

The thumbs-up to the proposal, which Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats are pushing on Capitol Hill, came during an exchange with Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) during a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy hearing on public-private partnerships to boost efficiency in federal facilities.

McKinley asked if the idea of upgrading all buildings for “state-of-the-art” efficiency in 10 years — a tenet of the “Green New Deal” — was a reasonable target.

Both Leslie Nicholls, strategic director of the Federal Energy Management Program at DOE, and General Services Administration Chief Sustainability Officer Kevin Kampschroer said yes.

“I think that is a goal that the Congress could set and we do our damnedest to achieve it,” Kampschroer said at another point when McKinley asked whether achieving state-of-the-art efficiency in a decade was the “right” thing to do.

Ed Bradley, executive director of the office of asset enterprise management at the Department of Veterans Affairs, told McKinley he’d like to think the idea was reasonable but wasn’t sure.

Jack Surash, acting deputy assistant secretary for energy and sustainability in the Department of the Army, added that he “could not commit” to the concept.

The federal government is the largest energy user in the country, and unlike other types of buildings, efficiency upgrades to its facilities would be determined largely by federal dollars. The specifics of the “Green New Deal” and the meaning of “state-of-the-art” efficiency are not defined, however.

The plan broadly calls for “upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art efficiency, comfort and safety.”

Officials did not provide a dollar range when McKinley repeatedly pressed what it would cost to achieve the “Green New Deal” efficiency target. Bradley said roughly $50 billion of upgrades and renovations need to occur at the VA within the next 10 years, although not all of that would be for efficiency.

“I’d like to start building a file on this, what the cost would be” at federal agencies, McKinley said.

The Trump administration has proposed slashing the budgets of efficiency programs at DOE and other agencies, although Congress ignored the requests.

DOE’s Building Technologies Office and the Federal Energy Management Program, which assists agencies in reaching efficiency goals, got slight funding increases in fiscal 2019. It remains unclear where funding could come from a decadelong efficiency boost.

Lawmakers from both parties yesterday praised specific federal efficiency projects, including a $1 billion DOE grant cited by Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) that helped leverage $47 million in new heat and power projects at the Johnson Space Center. During Hurricane Harvey last year, the facility stayed online, Olson noted.

“The NASA Johnson Space Center project can certainly be a model for other federal agencies as a case study,” Nicholls said.

An executive order from the president on federal sustainability this May has not held back projects at agencies, officials told lawmakers. Some environmentalists criticized the order for not emphasizing climate change and loosening federal building efficiency requirements (Climatewire, May 18).

Additionally, subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said he hoped bipartisan efficiency legislation, H.R. 723, could be worked on early next year.

Sponsored by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), the bill would facilitate the use of energy savings contracts to encourage private-sector investment in efficiency initiatives.

The law governing energy savings performance contracts and utility energy service contracts, which allow agencies to work with private contractors on efficiency upgrades, has not been updated in a decade, Upton said.

“Given the time that’s passed since [the law’s] original drafting, we should start by looking at the definition of a ‘federal building’ and the definition of ‘energy savings.’ We should also consider how energy efficiency upgrades affect the life cycle cost of operations and maintenance at the facility,” Upton said.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), the ranking member of the subcommittee, said he supported the objective of energy savings contracts but cited warnings about them in earlier Government Accountability Office and GSA reports.

A 2015 GAO report on contracts found that a sample of 20 projects in federal agencies may have “overstated” energy savings.

“Bring the audits on,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), one of the co-sponsors of the bill with Kinzinger.

“That information can help us make improvements … and maintain support within Congress for what has been a very solid program,” Welch said.