Govpro.com talked with the Alliance to Save Energy's vice president of programs, Jeffrey Harris, about strategies and resources government facility managers can use to reduce building energy consumption.

Govpro.com: What are some ways that government buildings can be made more energy-efficient?

Jeffrey Harris: One area of opportunity, and it's true for new construction as well as existing buildings, is in quality assurance and building commissioning. Facility managers want to make sure that the building, as it is constructed and as it's operated, matches the design intent and the engineering of the systems. Often, things happen during the installation and startup process, so building commissioning has become a very important element of what federal and other government agencies do to manage energy. Building commissioning can also apply to existing buildings, through re-commissioning a building that's been in place for a while.

Govpro.com: How would the ASE define building commissioning in government facilities?

JH: Building commissioning really means setting the structure back on the right track so that the controls and sensors are calibrated and the software is operating correctly, and that the agency fixes or somehow offsets all of the things that tend to happen on a day-to-day basis in operating a building.

Here are a few examples of what can happen: Some piece of software or hardware breaks, and someone figures a way to rig up a temporary solution, which of course stays forever as long as it is working. Or somebody's cold because of an imbalance or a poorly functioning Variable Air Volume (VAV) box, and so they crawl up on their desk and tape over a vent. So, all of this stuff tends to happen over time, and the agency ends up with buildings operating really out of whack from the way they were designed — and that's what commissioning is about. It refers to getting systems operating efficiently again.

Govpro.com: What about energy quick-fixes in government facilities?

JH: For even shorter-term improvement — one is training and generally improving the skills of the government workforce or of the contract workforce, if there are outsourced operations.

Accompanying that would be better data through metering that is required now for more federal buildings, including sub-metering and smart meters, and the tracking of energy use and benchmarking energy use against other comparable buildings, whether there are other, similar buildings in the same agency, or maybe comparable private sector buildings, if they exist.

And that strategy can apply to state and local government facilities, also. One of the more common tools now for benchmarking, not the only one, but a very common one is the Energy Star portfolio manager. There are very good Web pages that Energy Star has put together about the number of states and localities that are benchmarking their buildings. In a few cases, there's some customization of that tool, with different benchmarks of buildings to compare to. States like California and Massachusetts, recently, and New York City, for example, all now have policy requirements that call for public buildings to have energy ratings that are disclosed to potential buyers or tenants.

Govpro.com: Do you have any advice for state and local government facilities managers and administrators regarding opportunities in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) stimulus funding mechanism for making their facilities more energy efficient?

JH: There are lots of dollars that local and state governments now have to spend through ARRA funds on energy efficiency. Virtually every state has programs now focused on public buildings and energy efficiency. So, either the state Web site or the DOE's ARRA site has that kind of information. Parts of the www.energy.gov/recovery site relate to state and local governments. There's a map on the site, and you click on individual states for a description of what Recovery Act funds are available for energy purposes, as well as information and announcements for the different programs under way. It's a good source to get started with.

Govpro.com: What other resources are out there on this topic for government building managers?

JH: The ASE is participating in a project that has some efforts under way called the Zero Energy Commercial Buildings Consortium. We are one of the co-organizers of this consortium, which was authorized in the 2007 energy legislation. Government buildings are absolutely part of the mix at that site.