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GOP Critical of Energy-Monitoring Plan

Correction Appended

Republican leaders are once again lashing out against the Green the Capitol Initiative, this time targeting a $4.3 million effort to install several meters to monitor the House’s energy use throughout the Capitol complex.

But Democrats say the meters are necessary because they will allow greening officials to better monitor the chamber’s energy use —and thus will save millions in the long run.

“The Speaker has said that energy efficiency must become a way of business for the House community, and metering is an essential part of any greening effort,” said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

In a Nov. 30 letter to acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers, Pelosi directed the AOC to install “smart meters” that provide detailed utility usage in the Capitol and House office buildings. These will help greening officials monitor energy use and help the House reach its goal of cutting energy consumption in half by fiscal 2018.

The meters also would let greening officials track how much fuel is used for the Capitol Power Plant, which provides cooling and heating service. Pelosi also asked the AOC to work with House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard to create a display system that would allow staff and visitors to see the buildings’ power usage, “so that energy-usage awareness can be raised.”

Pelosi set a May deadline for the project’s completion. Exact costs for the installation of the meters were still being worked out on Friday, but according to estimates, the process is expected to cost at least $4.3 million, and up to $4.6 million. And that, Republicans said, is just too much money.

“While we recognize the need to improve the House’s method of monitoring energy usage, we are uncertain that, as stewards of taxpayer dollars, spending $4.5 million on a ‘showcase’ should be a priority,” said Salley Collins, a spokeswoman for House Administration ranking member Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.).

A spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) echoed those thoughts, noting that Democrats had to reappropriate funds this year to make sure Member Representational Allowances were increased.

“That’s absurd,” said Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith. “And it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

The MRAs, which fund staff salaries and other Congressional office expenses, eventually went up about 2.5 percent.

Others involved in the greening efforts argued that meters are cost-effective and will save taxpayers money in the long run.

“This is simple math,” said Jeff Ventura, a spokesman for Beard, who is charged with overseeing the project. “The metering installation will pay for itself in just six years, because every year the meters will save us, and the taxpayers, $750,000. After the six years, it’s just pure money saved.”

Ventura also noted that all federal agencies are required to properly evaluate their energy consumption, and the meters will help meet that requirement.

But there also is concern that the cost of the meters will be a burden to the AOC, an agency already overloaded with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of maintenance projects. The agency requested $643 million in funds for fiscal 2009, with the bulk of the money going to help tackle a backlog of repair projects throughout the campus.

As such, the metering issue is expected to be addressed at the AOC’s upcoming hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, which is set for Wednesday. Ayers’ testimony had not been submitted to the panel as of Friday afternoon, so an AOC spokesman declined to discuss whether Ayers will bring up the meters.

But the spokesman did say that if the meters are something the AOC is tasked with doing, it is likely to be included in the agency’s detailed budget request.

Meters aren’t the only greening issue that has been criticized by Republicans over the past several weeks. The GOP recently criticized the CAO’s $89,000 purchase of carbon credits from the Chicago Climate Exchange.

Critics have said the credits went to worthless projects and were a waste of taxpayer dollars, but supporters maintain offsets are the only way the House can meet its goal of becoming carbon neutral.

Beard likely will be asked to defend the greening project when he appears before appropriators on Thursday.

Correction: Feb. 11, 2008

The article misidentified the agency that purchased the House’s carbon credits. House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard made the purchase.

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