Federal Times Blogs

So what about those White House solar panels?

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Last year Energy Secretary Stephen Chu announced with much fanfare at a green government symposium that the White House will have solar panels on it – by the end of spring no less.

Well, that day has come and gone. But instead of solar panels, there is just a June 20 statement on the Energy Department’s blog that says the following before highlighting areas of success:

The Energy Department remains on the path to complete the White House solar demonstration project, in keeping with our commitment, and we look forward to sharing more information — including additional details on the timing of this project — after the competitive procurement process is completed.

When I asked the Energy Department why the project was not completed on time, I only got the return answer to just see that statement. Inquiries to the White House were directed back to the Energy Department, since they were in charge of procurement.

But why the project was delayed or for what reasons is not clear. The only thing that we know is that there are no solar panels on the White House.

Pentagon may have overpaid fuel contractor by $200 million

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The Defense Department Inspector General released a summary of a recent investigation into contracts awarded to the International Oil Trading Company (IOTC), which provides fuel to the military in Iraq by using supply routes through Jordan.

According to the report, contract officers at the Defense logistics Agency, which handles energy/fuel procurement for DOD, did not have accurate data to compare against other contracts and ended up overpaying. By a lot.

With total contracts valued at $2.7 billion, it added up. According to the report:

“We calculate that DLA Energy paid IOTC about $160 to $204 million (or 6 to 7 percent) more for fuel than could be supported by price or cost analysis.”

The investigation was sparked by Congressman Henry Waxman, the former Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who raised concerns about the oil company, according to the report.

Update: WUSA’s report on federal building lights misses the mark

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So some of you readers might have seen a WUSA report in the D.C. area that took aim at federal workers leaving the lights on. Well, Andrea McCarren had noted that in many federal office buildings, the lights were being left on at night, which costs taxpayer dollars.

So she filed a report on how much each agency pays in energy costs for each month and came away with some striking figures.

The video package seems to have everything: Taxpayer dollars being wasted, federal employees behaving badly and federal agencies paying through the nose for electricity because they leave their lights on.

In fact, at the 1:35 minute of the video the camera zooms in on the Labor Department’s monthly bill and shows – weird techno soundtrack to highlight the number – a bill of $1,042,098.92 for July 2010.

Outrageous! Scandalous. The reporter decides to ask people how much a utility bill should be for these buildings. She then springs the million dollar number on them after they answer to record their shock.

There is only one problem. That number is not true.

A clue that there might be more to this story is that if you freeze the video at 1:35, you can see their totals for the other months. It looks like April’s number is around $40,000. A huge change month to month.

So what is the deal?

That number was the amount the Transportation Department was billed but not its utility cost for that month. Because of previous bills that undercharged them they had to make it up in those months. The amount they paid per month in electricity is actually as follows.







How did I get these numbers? I did my own request and found out about the error.

Phillip Puckett, the Department of Labor’s Director in the Office of Administrative Services states that:

The $1 million electric bill highlighted in the news report does not reflect a single month’s bill, but a billing correction where the General Services Administration vendor played catch up with under billing for previous months.  The actual monthly electric bill for July was $390,466.43, not the $1,042,098.98 as reported.

The Department of Labor, Frances Perkins Building’s total electric bill for FY2010 was $4,244,040.13.

The reason the bills climbed from April to July was the bill corrections.  The General Service Administration’s electric contract is broken down into generation and transmission fees.  The vendor providing the electricity did not properly process and correctly bill DOL in the initial months of FY2010.  The differences in the April to July bills reflect billing corrections.

Also, total building size should be taken into consideration for the electric bills. The Department of Labor, Frances Perkins Building’s is just under 2 million gross square feet in size.

I am not arguing that the lights being on don’t waste taxpayer money, they probably do. But lets note that on average commercial buildings use only 25 percent of their energy on electricity for lights. The rest is heating, cooling, appliances and other related costs.

Also, the Frances Perkins building spends about $2.10 per square foot on energy costs, which is below the commercial sector average for office space of about $2.28, according to the Energy Department.

Interior announces largest solar project on public lands

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The White House continues to push renewable energy projects during National Energy Awareness month this October.

The latest is from the Interior Department, which has announced what they call the largest solar energy project on public lands.

From Ken Salazar, Interior Secretary

The Tessera Solar Imperial Valley Solar Project and the Chevron Energy Solutions Lucerne Valley Solar Project will both be built in the California desert.  Together, the projects could produce up to 754 megawatts of renewable energy, power 226,000 – 566,000 American homes, and support almost 1,000 new jobs.

At the Department of the Interior, we have a special responsibility to help lead this effort.  As stewards of our nation’s public lands, we oversee deserts, plains, and oceans that can make significant contributions to our nation’s renewable energy portfolio.

This follows on the heels of the White House announcing that solar panels will be placed on the White House. For more on that, click here.

Don’t forget to power down

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If all 16,000+ participants follow through with their pledge tonight, Power IT Down Day 2010 should be a huge success.

The initiative has nearly 500 supporters on Facebook, more than 100 Twitter followers and thousands who have signed up directly on the site.

The nationwide event encourages government and the private sector to shut down their computers, printers, monitors and other devices at the end of the work day to save energy. I was told that about two-thirds of those who have registered are from government agencies.

Citrix, HP, Intel and GTSI are sponsoring the initiative and will make a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project, representative of the money saved from Power IT Down Day. Last year’s donation totaled $45,000.

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Sound off on carbon footprint accounting

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My cover story in this week’s Federal Times details the federal government’s new goal to cut indirect greenhouse gas emissions by 13 percent during the next decade. The bulk of the story explains the impact on federal workers — more telecommuting, fewer business trips out of state, increased recycling and energy conservation efforts.

But as I mention in the article, this is just part of a much larger undertaking to measure and shrink the government’s entire carbon footprint, including the energy used in federal facilities and vehicles.

Under an October executive order from President Obama, all agencies must undertake their first-ever comprehensive accounting of greenhouse gas emissions and report their carbon footprints by Jan. 31.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality earlier this month issued a roadmap for agencies to follow in conducting this inventory. The roadmap is divided into two parts: an overall guidance document, and a more detailed technical support document.

CEQ will accept public comments on the two documents through Sept. 1.

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GSA picks chief greening officer

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The General Services Administration has tapped an industry expert to serve in the newly created career position of chief greening officer.

Eleni Reed, director of sustainability strategies at property management firm Cushman and Wakefield, will oversee green building programs and strategies across GSA’s inventory of 9,600 owned and leased facilities, the agency announced Tuesday.

While at Cushman and Wakefield, Reed led the effort to enhance the environmental performance of the firm’s portfolio of U.S.-managed properties. She played a key role in develping a memorandum of understanding between the firm and the Environmental Protection Agency aimed at enhancing energy efficiency, cutting water use and waste, and reducing the carbon footprint of the firm’s U.S.-managed properties, GSA said.

Reed will report directly to Bob Peck, commissioner of GSA’s Public Buildings Service. Peck said she will be instrumental in helping  GSA carry out the Obama administration’s green government mandates and GSA Administrator Martha Johnson’s own pledge to reduce GSA’s carbon footprint to zero.

Her unparalleled work in sustainability and green buildings will help drive GSA’s efforts to be a green proving ground and a market-maker for state-of-the art and emerging technologies.

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OK, we get it, you’re going green

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So yesterday at the GSA Expo, Administrator Martha Johnson was walking around in a black and white outfit, if I remember correctly. But by the time she arrived at the Coalition for Government Procurement dinner to announce GSA’s new goal of eliminating the government’s carbon footprint (good luck with that, by the way), she had changed into — you guessed it — a green jacket.

Johnson’s speech received what sounded like polite applause last night, from a crowd made up mostly of vendor representatives. And CGP president Larry Allen was fairly critical of Johnson today, even after he’d had a night to sleep on it. He sent me an e-mail that included the words “an arbitrary goal that makes for good press but has no basis in
reality,” although he later said he didn’t necessarily think Johnson had set such a goal, but simply that he hoped she wasn’t. It’ll be interesting to see whether setting this lofty goal spurs federal agencies and contractors to action as Johnson hopes it will, or if setting the bar so high will be counterproductive.

UPDATE: I should clarify that Allen’s group has pledged to work with Johnson on her initiative and wants to play a role in developing the specifics of her plan. I don’t mean to paint this as a GSA vs. industry fight; Johnson also stressed that the private sector should play a key role in reducing the government’s environmental impact, and the fact she delivered her message at an industry-sponsored event only underscores that.

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USDA sustainability chief targets data centers

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Agencies’ plans for meeting the green government mandates outlined in President Obama’s October executive order aren’t due until June 2, but the Agriculture Department’s chief sustainability officer already has identified one of her top priorities: cutting energy consumption in data centers.

Robin Heard, a lifelong conservationist who joined Agriculture in 1976, said she had no idea how much energy is consumed by data centers until she took on her new role as the department’s deputy assistant secretary for administration about a year ago.

Speaking Tuesday on the opening day of the GSA Expo in Orlando, Heard said she wants to consolidate the department’s data centers and reduce duplication. Agriculture’s computer servers are operating at between 10 percent and 20 percent of their total capacity, according to a January 2009 strategic plan from Agriculture’s chief information officer.

Heard said she’s already getting pushback to the consolidation plan from employees worried that they’ll lose their computing power. But she seemed unfazed by the resistance, recalling a recent conversation with a consultant who had covertly taken offline one of his company’s huge data centers without anyone noticing.

I may start sneaking around to data centers and start unplugging things. I might get arrested.

So if you see Robin Heard visiting your facility anytime soon, you might want to backup whatever work you’re doing on the computer … just in case.

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GSA hits another Recovery Act milestone

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The General Services Administration said today that it’s awarded $4 billion in contracts for hundreds of building construction and renovation projects through the Recovery Act.

More than 500 companies across the country have received contracts for the 391 projects GSA has funded so far since the Recovery Act was passed in February 2009. GSA overall received $5.5 billion in stimulus funds for construction projects, including $4 billion to improve the energy efficiency of existing federal buildings.

Vice President Joe Biden praised GSA for stretching its Recovery Act dollars further than originally planned. Due to the slumping economy, bids came in lower than anticipated, allowing GSA to fund an additional $173 million in work.

By delivering on-time and under-budget on these green retrofit projects, we’re not only making more cost-saving building improvements than anticipated, but creating new opportunities for more than 500 companies nationwide. 

Some of the projects now underway include construction of a new energy-efficient courthouse in Austin, Texas; installation of a solar roof on the Veterans Affairs building in downtown Philadelphia; and the conversion of a former World War II munitions plant in St. Louis into a high-performance green building.

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