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State agencies, universities ignore energy-reduction law

Wind turbines atop ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability generate a small amount of power for the Tempe campus’ main energy grid. The turbines have been operational since October 2008. The building, which housed ASU’s College of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation until August 2006, was renovated to include sustainability features before the School of Sustainability moved into the building in March 2008. (Photo by Stephanie Snyder)

Wind turbines atop ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability generate a small amount of power for the Tempe campus’ main energy grid. The turbines have been operational since October 2008. The building, which housed ASU’s College of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation until August 2006, was renovated to include sustainability features before the School of Sustainability moved into the building in March 2008. (Photo by Stephanie Snyder)

Back in 2003, lawmakers passed a law that required state agencies and universities to reduce their energy consumption by 10 percent by the end of 2008. The legislation had overwhelming bipartisan support, and it was intended as a way for the state to set an example for local governments to make their buildings more eco-friendly.

The intentions may have been noble, but the results were disappointing. None of the energy standards were met by the deadline, and the Board of Regents, responsible for the state’s three universities, remains non-compliant.

Yet the law included no penalty for violations. And it’s anybody’s guess when the universities will meet the reduction standard. The UofA, for example, has completely disregarded the law by increasing energy use during the past six years, and university officials say they don’t expect to make serious progress anytime soon.

“If the economy turns around in two years, I’d be more than happy to get more money from the state in any way we can. But I don’t see that happening,” said Albert Tarcola, assistant vice president of business affairs at UofA. “There’s new technology that we can’t even afford to buy right now.”

Michael Neary, president of the Arizona Solar Energy Industries Association, said the state has had plenty of time to meet the energy- reduction requirements. Lawmakers and state officials, he said, simply don’t seriously consider energy efficiency as a way to save money.

“In the long run the whole goal is to save taxpayer dollars,” Neary said. “Since 2003 there have been plenty of opportunities. The state has been flush with cash at times between then and now to where they could have taken advantage of some of these measures.”

Rep. Ed Ableser, a Democrat from Tempe, said lawmakers should use the budget to apply pressure on state agencies that fail to meet the energy-reduction standards. He said whatever savings would be gained from a potential decrease in energy consumption should be taken out of the budget of any agency that doesn’t comply.

“If they’re simply ignoring the mandate of the Legislature, then they’re basically going against the will of the people,” he said. “The bureaucrats should not have that ability to simply ignore a mandate the Legislature puts in place.”

The law requiring state agencies to reduce energy use (Arizona Revised Statute 34-451) was approved in 2003 after a 54-1 vote in the House and a 22-6 vote in the Senate. The law gave the Arizona Department of Administration, Department of Transportation and Board of Regents until July 1, 2008 to reduce their energy consumption by 10 percent per square foot of building space.

Former Rep. Randy Graf, a Tucson Republican who sponsored the bill, said lawmakers recognized the state had done very little to reduce energy consumption and saw it as a solution to save money. He said he doesn’t remember why the bill was drafted without penalties for non- compliance.

“I don’t think there’s any question there should’ve been some more oversight to check the status of (the energy reduction) as it was nearing,” he said. “State agencies have a difficult time meeting deadlines and always come back to the Legislature for reprieve or extensions.”

Between 2003 and 2008, the Department of Administration reduced its energy consumption by 5 percent per square foot of building space, the Department of Transportation by 6.3 percent and the Board of Regents by 1.3 percent, according to the 2008 energy usage report issued by the Arizona Department of Commerce.

The Department of Administration and the Department of Transportation, which together are responsible for the vast majority of state buildings, reduced energy consumption enough in 2009 to meet the standards, although a year too late.

The problem, according to officials with both departments, is the state’s budget deficit. When the standards were set in 2003, nobody could have foreseen the economic downturn and the resulting state budget crisis, which has left agencies without enough money to invest in equipment or building remodeling projects that reduce energy use.

“We’ve never received the level of building renewal money that’s necessary to implement systems that will allow us to realize those savings,” said Alan Ecker, spokesman for the Department of Administration. “With the old, outdated, inefficient equipment we have it’s literally impossible to realize those standards.”

The Department of Transportation failed to comply with the standards in time because it took several years to realize the energy savings that resulted from the department’s efforts that began in 2004, according to spokeswoman Laura Douglas.

Douglas said the agency was not able to make the 2008 deadline because it had just established an energy consumption reduction program in 2004.

“(The program) needed to get going, so we didn’t see a tremendous amount of energy savings in, say, 2006 or 2007 because the program was still in its infancy and these projects were still getting going and the energy savings had to start that momentum,” she said.

In 2009, however, the Transportation Department significantly reduced energy consumption in 89 of its largest buildings by installing new heating and cooling systems, as well as new lighting, Douglas said.

The department’s overall energy reduction was enough to satisfy another provision of the law that requires state buildings to cut energy consumption by 15 percent by 2011.
Thermostats were installed to regulate building temperatures during the off-hours when employees were not present, so they were cooled less in the summer months and heated less in the winter months, Douglas said. The department also installed occupancy sensors in many offices to prevent unoccupied rooms from being lit, she said.

To pay for the projects, the Transportation Department has relied on a combination of a portion of an annual budget designated through its building renewal program and money from rebate programs offered by utility companies, Douglas said.

The Department of Transportation has faced severe budget cuts but still managed to prioritize energy-saving programs, Douglas said.

“Our energy reduction efforts have always been a priority,” she said. “It continues to be a priority.”

The Department of Administration, meanwhile, is close to meeting the 15 percent reduction requirement by 2011. It has reduced energy consumption by 12.1 percent during the past six years, with most of the progress made in 2009.

Jim Westberg, the energy program administrator for the Department of Administration, said most of the energy reduction that occurred last year can be attributed to staff layoffs and the slightly cooler summers and warmer winters.

Last year, the state laid off about 7 percent of its workforce, which means less electricity was used and the same amount of building square footage was used in the equation. If the workforce increases during the next couple of years, agencies might have to take additional steps to reduce consumption to meet the 15 percent deadline in 2011.

The Energy Office, within the Department of Commerce, has contracted with the Department of Administration to spend about $9.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to establish energy-saving projects for more than 51 ADOA-managed buildings. Right now, audits are being conducted by a hired contractor, Siemens, to determine how the money should be distributed, Westberg said.

Even with the federal dollars, though, lawmakers aren’t sure there will be much support any time soon for stronger legislation because the state isn’t looking to take on more expenses.

“Just about everything we do has a cost,” said Rep. Lucy Mason, a Prescott Republican and chairwoman of the House Water and Energy Committee. “Whether it’s a mandate or enforcement of a mandate, there’s going to be a cost. You can require something to happen and you can also have an enforcement piece of it, but unless you want to create something … akin to renewable energy police, I don’t think you’re going to get the desired outcome.”

Click here to read sidebar: “Regents fail to meet energy-saving mandates”

Click here to read sidebar: “Energy-efficiency bills targeting state buildings likely going nowhere”

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