Friday, October 10, 2008

State government without energy savings plan

[video: OK Environment Secretary J.D. Strong says energy efficiency is like an alternative fuel of its own.]

By John Sutter

Despite fragmented efforts to save energy and reduce spending, Oklahoma -- unlike many other states -- does not have a comprehensive plan for energy efficiency, Oklahoma Environment Secretary J.D. Strong said in an interview Friday.

The state could save an untold amount of taxpayer money if it developed a plan to retrofit state buildings with green technologies that reduce electricity use -- thereby saving money, working to curb climate change and improving air quality, he said.

"It's really the low-hanging fruit," Strong said of energy efficiency improvements. "It's something that could be started right away."

The state government is the largest employer in Oklahoma (Wal-Mart is second), and should do more to lead by example, Strong said.

Oklahoma is far behind other states in the area of energy efficiency. The Sooner State ranked 43rd of 50 states in a recent analysis of state energy plans. Still, there are signs that high energy prices and concerns about the environment are spurring consumers and businesses to drive less and use less electricity. In some circles, energy efficiency is talked about as a type of alternative fuel.

Strong said the state could adopt measures as radical as giving capitol or downtown employees bicycles instead of state cars -- or as simple as changing out light bulbs.

He said he hopes to quantify what savings Oklahoma state government could achieve by using green technologies. A spokeswoman for the state Department of Central Services said her office does not keep track of those numbers. A call to the state Finance Office was not immediately returned.

Some state agencies, like the Department of Environmental Quality, have energy reduction plans of their own. Central Services, for instance, has changed its lights to compact fluorescents (which use less energy) and has installed motion sensors that turn off the lights automatically when employees aren't working and moving around, said Gerry Smedley, the department's spokeswoman. The light changes alone save the state $50,000 per year, she said.

Toilets that use 1.2 gallons of water per flush instead of 4 have been installed in the 17 state buildings the department manages, she said. That saves the state 4 million gallons of water per year, she said.

In eight state buildings in Oklahoma City, thermostats let temperatures rise to 90 degrees at night in the summer and cool to 55 degrees during the winter, she said.

Environmentalists cheered during the last legislative session after the Green Building Act was passed by state legislators. That bill requires new state buildings and upgrades to meet certain green building standards. It doesn't apply to schools, though, and it also doesn't require upgrades to current buildings, Strong said.

That's where immediate savings could come in, he said.


Hausfrau said...

So glad to see you've started a blog! Keep up the great work!

We have an elementary school in our neighborhood undergoing a MAPS renovation - only the plans have been established. I attended the meeting where the plan was discussed and I don't remember hearing a thing about energy saving improvements.

jdsutter said...

That's interesting. Thanks for your comment. I know some other cities have come up with major savings by retrofitting their buildings to be more energy efficient. In a documentary I watched recently, schools in Tennessee were able to hire many more teachers with the money I saved.

Anyone else know about school projects here? Might be looking into for another blog entry ...