The Federal Push for Clean Energy and Sustainability

The federal government accounts for only 0.7% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, but is the single largest energy consumer in the country with a footprint of more than 360,000 buildings and 650,000 vehicles. Currently, annual federal renewable electricity usage is around 5 million MWh, or 9.17% of total federal electricity consumption.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

Back in March, President Obama signed Executive Order 13693 to build upon a previous order calling on federal agencies to increase their clean energy and sustainability efforts.  The new changes require agencies to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 2008 levels and increase renewable energy capacity 30% by 2025.

A number of agencies have already begun transitioning their energy portfolios to include more solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal.  Many are also making sustainability and energy efficiency improvements to their buildings and vehicle fleets.

In April, several agencies partnered to make the first federal combined solar energy purchase in the country.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Forest Service, Department of Energy, and the General Services Administration formed the Federal Aggregated Solar Procurement Project to help mitigate the high costs of solar panels and contracting issues.  These agencies will purchase solar energy at a fixed price through a 10-year power purchase agreement with a single contractor responsible for the design, installation, and maintenance of the panels. The systems will be installed at nine federal sites in California and Nevada, producing a combined 5 MW of electricity.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is making significant progress on meeting the President’s emissions goals.  In 2014, the agency reached 68,550 MWh of renewable energy usage, equivalent to almost 15% of its total annual electricity requirements.  Most recently, USDA completed a 1.6 MW solar array at the George Washington Carver Center in Beltsville, Maryland.  The new 1.6 MW system spans over 6.2 acres and will supply 20% of the building’s electricity.

Also in 2014, EPA acquired 111 alternative fuel vehicles and increased its renewable energy usage by 3.5%.  The agency was the first to purchase enough renewable energy credits to offset all of its annual electricity consumption.  EPA is also working to modify its buildings to conserve more water and energy, include stormwater management features, incorporate green building materials, minimize environmental impacts, and promote alternative fuel vehicle use.

As the largest single federal energy consumer, the Department of Defense (DOD) is also working dilligently to reach 30% renewable energy capacity.  The Navy, Army, and Air Force have each committed to deploying 1 GW of alternative energy on their military facilities by the end of 2025.  At the end of 2013, there was a department-wide total of 885 installed renewable energy projects.  Around 500 of these projects are solar and 60% of planned projects through 2017 involve photovoltaics.  DOD’s largest solar installation, located at Nellis Air Force base in Nevada, will be completed by the end of 2015 and is expected to offset 27,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.