AOC Targets Power Plant Efficiency

Posted March 15, 2011 at 6:28pm

In an effort to reduce energy costs, the Architect of the Capitol is looking into incorporating a combined heat and power system into the Capitol Power Plant operations to generate heat and electricity at the same time.

A natural gas-powered combustion turbine would power the plant, while the heat that it produces would create steam that could be used to help heat the Capitol complex.

The process is called cogeneration, and Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers said the most efficient way to install the system would be to hire outside contractors to carry out the work. The contractors, he said, would be paid with money saved through reducing energy costs.

“The energy savings are guaranteed. If the companies don’t achieve them, they don’t get paid,” Ayers said. “Energy savings equals money savings. That’s ultimately what this is after.”

The project would require $2 million in Congressional funding, however, to pay the salaries of AOC staff who oversee the project. If fully funded, Ayers said the program can pay off the contractors in 13 years and be left with equipment that lasts 45 years.

The Capitol Power Plant plan was one of several cost-saving measures that Ayers outlined Tuesday before House appropriators. Facing a climate in which Congress is seeking to cut its own budget, Ayers asked for $706 million in fiscal 2012 to fund construction around the Capitol complex.

Though the request is $50 million less than the fiscal 2011 request, it is more than the AOC’s current funding level.

But Ayers reminded the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch that he is facing roughly $1.5 billion in deferred maintenance projects around the complex and that putting off more projects would be costly in the long run.

“As funding is delayed, the requirements will worsen, the risk will escalate, and when funded, the projects will be more costly,” he said.

Ayers said his top construction priority is finishing maintenance on the utility tunnels, which he said should be done by June 2012. Second and third priorities are enclosing stairways in the Cannon House Office Building and Russell Senate Office Building to reduce fire and smoke hazards.

But patching the Capitol Dome, which Ayers said is “literally rusting and falling apart” and has holes in its outer shell, is very important, too.

“It would be high on the priority list because it is our symbol of representative democracy,” Ayers said. “We think it needs to be done, there no question about it. We think it needs to be done now.”

In other cost-saving measures, Ayers said, he has ordered the elimination of 150 printers and fax machines to consolidate information technology equipment and reduced the inventory from $56 million worth of supplies on hand to $7.5 million worth.

The infrastructure to allow cameras in stairwells in the House office buildings has already been installed, though the cameras themselves have not, Ayers said. Cameras would allow the Capitol Police to direct people to other stairwells if certain stairwells back up during an evacuation.