The Energy Department is suppose to set an example of good energy usage. But some of its facilities are energy inefficient, costing millions of dollars each year.
The Energy Department is the official bully pulpit for America's efforts to conserve power, but it isn't always practicing what it preaches. A new internal investigation found five major agency properties could do more to improve their efficiency.
In fact, more aggressive energy conservation measures could save the agency $6.6 million annually, according to the Energy Department's inspector general.
While it has advocated more efficiency in the public and private sectors, "the Department had not always pursued readily available, low-cost energy saving opportunities" for itself, the agency's internal watchdog reported Tuesday.
The department's National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees most of the sites, agreed with the findings and says improvements are already underway.
The Department spent about $227 million on energy costs for buildings in fiscal year 2010 at its 47 major sites, according to the inspector general. Many places in the department have made improvements, but more remains to be done, the inspector general said.
Most of the improvements identified are low-cost, and facilities should quickly see a return on investment in energy savings, the report said.
Some are small changes, such as improving supply and exhaust air fans so they can move at different speeds when needed. For instance, the upfront cost would be $7,000 to install the system at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tenn., but could save $52,868 annually.
Some of the facilities haven’t been using electric meters, the report said, which give helpful information that would allow officials to adjust energy usage. One Energy facility, Y-12 in Tenn. was compiling the data but wasn’t using it to implement energy conservation, the report said. In fact, the facility was estimating energy usage for seven of its 47 buildings. And Y-12 estimated “the same reading for a meter for nearly five years because it was behind a locked door and reportedly inaccessible,” the inspector general said.
Likewise, Los Alamos National Laboratory created “mock electricity bills” to estimate energy usage, but did not charge users, giving them little incentive to try to reduce costs and save electricity.
It’s an important area for improvement because some sites are using the meters to improve efficiency. Oak Ridge used the meters to identify and replace outdated and inefficient equipment, the inspector general said, suggesting similar improvements could be achieved by wider use of meter data.
The Department of Energy is the government agency charged with advancing, regulating and monitoring energy technology and usage.
The Office of Inspector General, or IG, is an independent office charged with finding waste or overruns in cost. Each major government agency has an IG.