Oregon House passes bill requiring state agencies to cut energy usage

The Oregon House passed a bill Tuesday requiring state agencies to cut their energy consumption to 20 percent below 2000 levels by June 30, 2015.

The Oregon House passed a bill Tuesday requiring state agencies to cut their energy consumption to 20 percent below 2000 levels by June 30, 2015.

The proposal, which now advances to the Senate, could mean more sunlight and natural breezes will be flowing through Oregon’s state universities, prisons and other government buildings as agencies look to cut energy use through skylights and more efficient cooling systems.

“One of the most significant and readily attainable means to energy independence is conservation,” said Rep. Brad Witt, a chief sponsor of the legislation. The Democrat from Clatskanie described the bill as “a milestone on our path to energy savings and energy freedom.”

Although the proposal requires state agencies to submit plans to the Oregon Department of Energy on how they will meet the reduction requirement, there is no penalty for not meeting the standards. Agencies failing to reduce their energy use in the allotted time must submit a biennial energy conservation plan to the department.

The bill passed the House with strong bipartisan support, but some Republicans had reservations.

“What we are doing here, while it sounds good on the surface, could have severe unintended consequences,” said Rep. Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point), who voted against the bill. “We’re saying we are going to require a 20 percent reduction of all remodeling and renovation and yet what does that cost? What does that mean?”

Supporters of the bill said agencies would save money in the long term because of rising energy prices, even if there are upfront expenses.

“The costs we are looking at are in the short term, and we often see with energy conservation that there is a payback period so we need to look over several biennium for those cost savings,” said Rep. Jackie Dingfelder (D-Portland), who supports the measure. “This will, in the long, term reduce the energy costs for the state.”

Members of Oregon’s green building industry said the measure would not just cut future costs but it would also make buildings healthier for people to work, study and live in.

“There is a lot of research that is showing that in schools students are performing better in green buildings that are designed with good daylight and natural ventilation strategies,” said Gina Franzosa, the director of the Cascadia Region Green Building Council.

Buildings designed to capture and use natural light and breezes have also been shown to increase worker efficiency and often hold additional health benefits.

When VeriFone, a secure electronic payment technologies company, upgraded a 76,000-square foot building in California with a series of skylights and other efficiencies, workers were able to rely more on natural daylight. The company saved 50 percent on energy and absenteeism dropped 40 percent.

Franzosa said a recent report by Wal-Mart found consumers buy more when exposed to more sunlight.

The bill could also be a boon to Oregon’s sustainable building industry. The state is a nationally recognized leader in designing and building energy efficient residential and commercial buildings.

There are 5,752 state-owned buildings with about 38 million square feet of interior space. A 20 percent reduction in the buildings’ energy costs would result in $6 million worth of annual savings, according to the department.