Fossil Fuel Fairy Tale
May 2012 | Research & Analysis
Everyone has heard the classic fairy tale of “Little Red Riding Hood” and the deceitful, greedy Old Wolf who has eaten the grandmother and now has his eyes on Little Red. It has been told to generations of school children.
To us, the story is simple: beware of those who will tell you anything to further their own interests.
In the most recent rendition of this fable, the American Gas Association (AGA) and Federal Performance Contracting Coalition (FPCC) seem to have swallowed up a Congressional Committee and now have their eyes on both Federal agencies and the U.S. taxpayer.
Under attack is Section 433 of the Energy Independence and Security Act, which was signed by President Bush in 2007 to require that all new Federal buildings, and major renovations of Federal buildings of at least $2.5 million, meet a fossil fuel-generated energy consumption reduction of 55% in 2010, 65% in 2015, 80% in 2020, 90% in 2025, and 100% in 2030.
The brief, which asks Congress to “substantially modify or eliminate” Section 433, is intentionally misleading.
The AGA and FPCC want us to believe that there is no “long term path to compliance” to phase out the use of fossil fuels in new Federal buildings and major renovations by 2030. They argue that many Federal agencies “do not have the ability to comply with the fossil fuel generated energy reduction mandate and therefore will not renovate,” resulting in higher energy bills for the Federal government and the American taxpayer.
These spurious claims prey on the recessionary fears of the American public. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), 76% of the 51,000 non-residential Federal buildings are one-story; 95.7% are three stories and under. The Federal government also owns over 400,000 one and two-story housing structures. These building types are easily renovated to meet the reduction targets set in Sec. 433.
In fact, 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.
These buildings also have large roof areas capable of accommodating cost-effective, off-the-shelf renewable energy and electric generation technologies and systems. More advanced on-site energy production and storage technologies developed over the next 18 years can be accommodated as well. Section 433 insures that Federal buildings will continually improve in efficiency – saving both the Federal government and American taxpayer precious dollars over the 60-year average lifetime of a building.
Of course, the Federal government can also purchase renewable energy to meet part of its mandated fossil fuel reduction target directly from electricity suppliers (DOE final rule will likely include Power Purchase Agreements). Today, over 50% of electricity consumers in the United States have the option of purchasing renewable energy generated electricity. Over the next 18 years, advancements in the grid and renewable energy technology will likely make this option even more widely available and cost-effective.
The brief also states that Section 433 “would halt the pursuit of increased use of natural gas.”
Federal government buildings comprise less that 1% of total U.S. building stock, of which only a small portion is renovated each year. To suggest that this would affect the use of natural gas in the U.S., staggers the imagination.
And finally, the brief gives five “examples of projects that would be hindered by the rule” – four very large power plant projects and one 355,000 square foot, eleven story building – implying that many or most renovation projects would not be possible, or go forward, under Sec. 433.
The point is moot. Sec. 433 contains a provision for obtaining a waiver if the “requirement would be technically impracticable,” i.e. impossible to carry out.
Even so, the only building example cited in the brief is not a typical government building project or renovation. Less than 1% of Federal commercial buildings are 10 stories or more, most are only one story. Also, the assumption made that, in the next 13 to 18 years, only a maximum 30% electricity consumption reduction will be possible is unsound; especially with ongoing advancements in LED lighting, high-tech and energy generating window coatings, high performance equipment and electronics, nanotechnology, and site renewable energy generation and storage.
It is indeed unfortunate that the American Gas Association and the Federal Performance Contracting Coalition are putting their own interests before that of our country, especially during these tough economic times.
In our favorite ending to the classic tale of Little Red, the kind woodcutter rushes to her rescue just before she ends up in the belly of the Old Wolf, tricked by his lies.
This is exactly how we want this fairy tale to end.