A month after the White House held its Solar Summit last April outlining plans to advance solar energy, the Obama administration announced that the installation of a solar-panel system on the White House was finally complete. It took nearly three decades to re-introduce panels, first installed by President Carter in 1979 but removed by President Reagan following roof repairs in 1986. White House officials posted a video in early May showing workers diligently mounting the last ones—a gesture demonstrating the administration's commitment to energy efficiency, coinciding with the announcement of new measures to reduce carbon emissions.
On President Obama's list of pollution-cutting actions is a pledge to invest $2 billion in upgrades to boost energy efficiency in federal buildings, which will supplement the initial $2 billion he allocated in 2011. And with the help of $5.5 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the General Services Administration (GSA) has overseen the conversion of dozens of federal facilities into energy-efficient structures, in addition to constructing new sustainable buildings. In the last two years, the number of LEED-certified GSA projects has more than doubled, from 70 certifications in 2012 to 143 certifications in 2014.
The GSA has employed a range of solutions to enhance the performance of its buildings. A recent renovation of the IRS regional headquarters in Andover, Massachusetts, transformed a tired 1960s facility with skylights, new insulated windows, a geothermal heating and cooling system, and porous paving. Together, these features have completely eliminated the use of fossil fuels for heating and cooling, and slashed energy use by half.
Recovery Act funds also financed the two case studies we feature in this issue; both illustrate creative approaches to achieving ambitious energy goals. The first is the Federal Center South Building 1202, the new Seattle headquarters for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Northwest District that sits on a former brownfield site. ZGF Architects won the commission and set out to achieve specific energy targets as part of a performance-based contract. In Grand Junction, Colorado, Westlake Reed Leskosky led the rehabilitation of the Wayne N. Aspinall Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse. The renovation of the historic edifice included upgrades to improve energy efficiency while respecting the integrity of the original architecture. The project even went one step further, becoming the GSA's first net zero building.
In the last few years, federal agencies like the GSA and municipalities, including New York and Seattle, have focused on cutting carbon emissions by reducing energy consumption in buildings. New benchmarking policies and changes in building codes for federal, institutional, and commercial buildings have resulted in significant energy savings. But if this trend is to continue, it hinges upon the support of elected officials and the continuation of public-private partnerships.