Energy and Homeland Security team up to help agencies cut their energy bills

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The Energy and Homeland Security departments have agreed to work together to cut energy consumption and carbon production by DHS facilities. they’ve signed an agreement under which the Energy’s Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) will give technical assistance to DHS. Here with the details, FEMP Procurement Team Leader Skye Schell.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Mr. Shell, good to have you on.

Skye Schell: 
Hi, Tom, it’s good to be here.

Tom Temin: And agency Engagement Lead Hayes Jones. Ms. Jones, good to have you on.

Hayes Jones: Hi, good morning.

Tom Temin: Let’s begin with what this memorandum of understanding this agreement that the two agencies have signed, what’s the purpose here? What is it precisely you’ll be collaborating on?

Hayes Jones: The agreement really is about collaboration between the Federal Energy Management Program and really affirms the joint commitment to a strategic partnership to increase climate mitigation and adaptation at DHS facilities across the nation and, to document replicable case studies. Under this partnership, FEMP will provide technical assistance and training to accelerate decarbonization and partner with DHS to share these replicable lessons learned with other agencies as well.

Tom Temin: Let’s define some of the terms here, like when you say decarbonisation, what does that exactly mean?

Hayes Jones: Yes, it’s really about reducing the carbon emission from agency facility operations, making sure that we’re aligning with the administration priorities and aggressive goals to set the decarbonisation priority for agencies.

Tom Temin: And does this mean what, turning the air conditioning hotter in the summer and the colder in the winter? Or what are some of the contemporary ways of getting facilities to do this? Now I thought most of them had been done already.

Hayes Jones: So efficiency plays a large part – energy efficiency is a large part of this agreement, working towards those efficiency mandates, and then also looking at the resilience of the facilities themselves. How do you prepare for energy and water outages as well as the impact of climate change and ensure that those facilities are ready to adapt and recover and respond as appropriate?

Tom Temin: Okay, and give us a sense of the scope of the facilities involved here. DHS, I think is the second largest civilian department after Veterans Affairs, and they’re all over the place. What types of facilities do you think offer the most potential here?

Hayes Jones: DHS is really a great partner. They have a wide variety of facilities, from training to offices, all different types of facilities. So they’re really a great case study and microcosm to use as a showcase to share those lessons learned across the federal government and across other agencies with similar types of facilities. Really enjoy working with DHS through their diverse mission, and really get to try out and showcase our strategies and different types of facilities that then we can take to the other federal agencies and showcase those great case studies and lessons learned.

Tom Temin: And Skye, there’s a FEMP solicitation out that is in connection with this agreement. Tell us about that.

Skye Schell: Yeah, Tom, I’d be happy to. FEMP has recently announced a federal agency call, and this is focused on providing funds to federal agencies to help them implement carbon reducing technologies, technologies that can increase their resilience, improve their efficiency, and those sorts of things.

Tom Temin: Got it? So in other words, what you are learning from DHS agreement could maybe provide lessons learned that could be applied across the government? Is that a good way to put it?

Skye Schell: Yeah, it is. And we hope DHS will be a participant, this actual call is open to all federal agencies. And we hope that all agencies will provide some project proposals to us, definitely, we hope DHS will be a major player in this. And we do hope that these projects can be replicated within the agencies themselves and scaled up, particularly like renewable generation that can power facilities and fleets of their EVs, very excited about opportunities there. And that these will then be leveraged and not only within an agency, but across agencies. And maybe even more broadly, we’re hoping that the federal government will lead by example, and will incorporate new technologies that other private sector and municipal governments can utilize as well in their efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and improve the efficiency of their operations.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Skye Schell, he’s the procurement team leader, and with Hayes Jones, agency engagement lead, at the Federal Energy Management Program at the Energy Department. And what are some of the newer technologies that might be available? I mean, energy saving by federal agencies goes back to the 1970s, when they used to put stickers on light switches to, be sure to turn me off when you leave the room during the first Arab oil embargo. And it’s come a long way since then. What are some of the emerging types of technologies or strategies that agencies are looking at?

Skye Schell: One of the things that we are really focused on is efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, okay? And you can do this by improved efficiency, certainly with some of the projects that we’re engaged in. We see deep energy retrofits that yield reductions of 40%, maybe as high as 6% with some projects that utilize new technologies that incorporate renewable energy, geothermal heat pumps that have improved controls and micro grids, enabled bidirectional charging to utilize battery systems and renewable generation in a way that enables federal buildings to be grid interactive. So our efforts to shift loads can not only save the federal government money, but it can help the grid be more resilient.

Tom Temin: And it looks like there’s also a revival or maybe an expansion of energy performance savings contracts. And these have been controversial in years past, but it sounds like they’re coming into their own now.

Skye Schell: Yeah, Tom, I think they are. I think over the past several years of the federal energy projects that reported to FEMP, over half of them are funded with these energy savings, performance contracts, which are either ESPC’s – energy savings performance contracts – or utility energy service contracts, basically using the talent and the resources of the utilities or the energy service companies to help federal agencies put projects in place and to arrange the financing that is paid for by savings generated by the project. So it doesn’t have an impact on the federal budget, we’re just converting the waste that is inherent in this old technology, with the efficiencies in new technologies, create savings and pay for the projects. It’s really an excellent way to power investments in the new technologies to achieve the goals of this administration.

Tom Temin: And Hayes, when you are giving technical assistance to DHS, who do you work with? What is the title of the person, is it facilities managers, is it program managers – who’s the point people for this type of work?

Hayes Jones: So that’s a great question. And we do traditionally work with the facility managers at federal agencies. And then we’re also finding as we work in resilience, that it’s important to bring in the continuity of operations planners, the strategic planners to really get an integrated look, as you’re planning for the future for these facilities and taking into account kind of an interdisciplinary look at how to plan for either mitigation for climate change adaptation to climate change, as we plan for resilience and plan our efficiency projects in these facilities.

Tom Temin: In other words, what would happen if we got flooded or blown away by a hurricane or something? What would happen?

Hayes Jones: Exactly how do you plan to stay up and running while the event is happening? And then if something does happen, how do you plan to recover quickly from that to provide the mission and carry out the mission in these federal facilities?

Tom Temin: And to get started on something with an agency as far flung as DHS, do you do some sort of a survey of the facilities to look at which ones, A) might be most promising to decarbonize and improve that way, and B) are the most prone to possible disaster occurrences?

Hayes Jones: So working with DHS, with their headquarters staff on how to prioritize across such a large agency, and then we’re really working to pilot various risk informed scenario planning with specific sites and then use those lessons learned, use those best practices from working deeply with a specific DHS sites to then share across with other sites as they’re prioritized as that risk-informed planning can really help them step through a systematic process.

Tom Temin: And a final question, you mentioned systematic process – is there someone taking measurements here, keeping score, so that, you know, yes, the carbon went down this much in this period of time and so forth?

Hayes Jones: So FEMP does have a whole section that at the agency level collects data on how agencies are doing and then DHS internally will collect that data as well. For resilience we’re really focused on how do you show the impact of these measures of the projects and procedures that you’re putting in place? And how does that show progress towards making you or the facility – or the fight more resilient?

Tom Temin: Hayes Jones is agency engagement lead at the Federal Energy Management Program, thanks so much for joining me.

Hayes Jones: Thank you.

Tom Temin: And Skye Schell is the FEMP procurement team leader, Skye thank you.

Skye Schell: Thank you, Tom.

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