Sunday, May 13, 2012

Natural Gas Lobby Fighting Against Carbon Neutral Federal Buildings

Obscure-but-awesome energy law getting shivved by natural gas lobby
[see also an excerpt of AGA document below]
By David Roberts

“But,” you’re protesting, “we would never do something so radical. Germany might. Denmark, maybe. Not us.”Wouldn’t it be cool if we passed a rule mandating that all new federal buildings had to be carbon-neutral by 2030? The feds buy and build a lot of real estate. An effort to wring fossil-fuel energy out of those buildings — by increasing their efficiency and supplying them with renewables — would seriously bolster domestic markets for efficiency and distributed energy. Beyond that, it would serve as a proving ground and an example for the communities where those buildings are located. It would be galvanizing.

Hark! I say to you. Hark to this sh*t: We do have such a rule! It was passed by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush! It’s on the books, the law of the land. Specifically, it is Section 433 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. It says that new federal buildings, or major renovations ($2.5 million or more) of federal buildings, must reduce their consumption of fossil-fuel energy (relative to a similar building in 2003) 55 percent by 2010, 80 percent by 2020, and 100 percent by 2030. (It hasn’t been funded yet, so that 2010 target is, er, no longer operational.)

It’s an audacious goal, basically Architecture 2030′s “2030 Challenge” put into law.

“Holy crap,” you’re saying, “if we have a law that awesome, surely come powerful constituency must be trying to screw it up!”

Right you are. On April 12, representatives from the American Gas Association (AGA) and the Federal Performance Contracting Coalition(FPCC) met at the White House with administration officials from DOE, CEQ, and OMB. At that meeting they offered this issue brief[PDF], which called on Congress to “substantially modify or eliminate EISA section 433.” You can bet that issue brief hit all the relevant congressional offices as well.

Less than a month later, Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.) of the House Appropriations Committee offered an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2013 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill that would “prohibit funding” to implement Section 433.

What is motivating this stealth attack on one of the few genuinely ambitious energy laws in the U.S.?

For the AGA, it’s pretty simple: no fossil fuel means no natural gas. They don’t even make any bones about it. This is what it says in the brief:

The mandate runs counter to the Presidential position on natural gas as part of an “all of the above” energy strategy: President Obama has recently stressed the need for development of “every available source” of American energy in the most recent state of the union address. This mandate would halt the pursuit of increased use of natural gas to support the national priorities of helping to improve our economy, reduce environmental impacts and secure our nation’s energy future.

First off, the mandate would “halt the pursuit of increased use of natural gas”? Seriously? The feds own about 1 percent of the nation’s building stock. I’m pretty sure the booming natural gas industry will survive.

Second, this makes it pretty obvious that the natural gas industry does not see itself as a “bridge” to a clean energy future, as so many others do (or claim to). The AGA doesn’t think we should stop burning fossil fuels, even if that’s an option! Shockingly, it is in favor of the federal government using a lot of natural gas. Bridge, schmidge.

But why is the FPCC against this? As Martin Pederson says:

FPCC members include: Ameresco, Chevron, Constellation Energy Services, FPL Energy Services, Honeywell, Johnson Controls, Lockheed Martin, Noresco, Pepco Energy Services, Schneider-Electric, Siemens Government Services, Inc., and Trane/Ingersoll Rand. There’s no surprise in seeing the likes of Chevron here (they are, after all, in the business of selling fossil fuels), but there are a couple of surprises. Schneider-Electric has actually signed onto the 2030 Challenge. Johnson Controls has a Zero Energy Buildings Whitepaper featured on their website. Many of the other companies are prominent in the field of energy efficiency.

What gives?

Good question.

The rest of the issue brief mostly consists of whining that the targets can’t be met. It cites a few big power-plant projects and one 11-story building renovation it claims the rule will prevent, but as Ed Mazria of Architecture 2030 notes, there’s a way to get a waiver under Section 433 if the “requirement would be technically impracticable.”

The allegedly imperiled projects are a red herring anyway. The vast majority of federal buildings are one- or two-story housing structures. The vast majority (95.7 percent) of the non-residential buildings it owns are three stories and under. As Mazria says, “there are numerous low-cost solutions for dramatically reducing energy consumption in single story and low-rise buildings: daylighting and ventilation strategies, natural heating and cooling systems, and high-performance products, fixtures, and equipment, to name just a few.”

And energy use in these buildings doesn’t have to be eliminated — the buildings do not have to be “net zero energy” like, say, passivhaus standards would have it. They just have to be carbon-neutral. They can provide their own energy with on-site renewables (or combined heat and power, as long as it uses biomass instead of natural gas). And if they can’t do that, they can buy clean energy from utilities. (Fifty percent of electricity consumers now have that option; presumably the number will be far greater by 2030.) Presumably over the coming 18 years, these options will expand and evolve.

There’s no denying that Section 433 represents a stretch goal. Striving to reach that goal would involve lots of groping about and most likely some failures. But much would be discovered and achieved. Much momentum would be built. This is exactly the kind of thing we need to be doing. We need more stretch goals on the books if we’re ever going to get on the path to serious climate solutions.

The few good laws we do have deserve better than to be quietly assassinated through backroom lobbying and obscure amendments.

Fossil Fuel Elimination Rule

Issue Brief

Section 433 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 mandates elimination of all fossil fuel-generated energy use in federal buildings by the year 2030. The mandate covers new buildings and major renovations of at least $2,500,000 (in 2007 dollars). This provision was originally planned as a goal, but evolved into a mandate for the federal government. The Federal Register published a Draft Rule as issued by the Department of Energy (DOE) in October 2010.

A final rule is on hold as a result of challenges observed by federal agencies when assessing how to comply with the requirement beyond the first few years.  Request Congress should substantially modify or eliminate EISA section 433

What Are the Potential Impacts of Implementing this Mandate?

 Potential reduction of large-scale “deep” retrofits that could limit efficiency opportunities and renewable installations in federal buildings.

 Limits and ultimately restricts the adoption of natural gas combined heat and power and waste heat recovery systems in federal facilities.

 The statute also creates a bias in federal policy at odds with the important role that domestically abundant, clean and affordable natural gas can serve in meeting the energy needs of not only federal buildings, but those of homes and businesses as well.

Rationale for Request

 The mandate is duplicative: Currently, federal agencies are under mandates to reduce energy use, increase use of renewable energy and attain sustainability as required by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, and reinforced through Executive Order 13514.

 The mandate increases costs of compliance: Energy managers for federal agencies have separate reporting structures separate efficiency and energy use requirements -- report creates a mandate that is duplicative of pre-existing requirements seems like wasted effort.

 The Federal government cannot find a long term path to compliance: The mandate seeks to reduce fossil fuel use by 65% by 2020 with total elimination by 2030 – a target viewed as generally unattainable. The areas in which federal facilities operate are the same as other U.S.

facilities and therefore have access to the same fuel mix and array of technologies. Currently, there is no recognized path to a 100% renewable grid – by 2030 or over a longer timeframe.

 The mandate reduces energy efficiency upgrades in federal Buildings: The mandate is applicable to major retrofits as well as new buildings. Currently, the Administration is working

hard to do “deep retrofits” of federal buildings – that is, reducing energy use significantly. This would be a major retrofit and would trigger the fossil fuel elimination rule. Agencies, many of which do not have the ability to comply with the fossil fuel generated energy reduction mandate, and some of which are using natural gas on site to improve efficiencies, will not undertake the retrofits or renovations. This will end up costing the federal government, and hence the taxpayer, more for its energy bills.

 The mandate restricts adoption of high-efficiency technologies such as combined heat and power (CHP): Efficient technologies such as combined heat and power, which are often fueled with natural gas, would not be possible in accordance with the reduction of fossil fuelgenerated energy. DOE, in its proposed rule, acknowledges the challenge of simultaneously using energy efficient CHP and waste heat recovery technology while complying with the mandated reduction in fossil fuel-generated energy. DOE’s stated intent with the rule is to ensure the rule does not penalize or discourage the use of on-site CHP. Natural gas CHP would not be a viable compliance solution.

 The mandate is far more aggressive than any other effort to reduce energy use, fossil fuel use or reduce carbon emissions: Even during consideration of a federal legislative framework for reducing carbon emissions in 2008-2009, the general goal was understood to be the an 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 -- which many agreed was aggressive. Federal facilities operate with the same grid infrastructure as other buildings.

 The mandate runs counter to the Presidential position on natural gas as part of an “all of the above” energy strategy: President Obama has recently stressed the need for development of “every available source” of American energy in the most recent state of the union address.  This mandate would halt the pursuit of increased use of natural gas to support the national priorities of helping to improve our economy, reduce environmental impacts and secure our nation’s energy future.
To read more of this document, go to this issue brief.

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