Monday, March 24, 2008

Reducing Global Warming - Saving Energy

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has followed the lead of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Arlington County Board, and City of Alexandria in adopting the Cool Counties/Cool Cities pledge to reduce greenhouse gases. This pledge fit in well with the comprehensive energy conservation efforts NVRPA put in place in late 2005. As a result of these efforts NVRPA was able to reduce it's "carbon footpring" in 2007.

Below are some key elements of this successful program:

Measure Everything
If meaningful goal are going to be set and achieved, one must have a baseline to measure against. The Finance Office at NVRPA now does more than just paying the utility bills, each month they log in the units of consumption (gallons, kilowatt/hr, etc.) for each of the 21 parks and facilities in the Authority. Spreadsheets convert each unit of consumption into tons of carbon (CO2). Now, emissions can be measured at each facility and across every form of energy.

Set a Goal
When the energy conservation policy was adopted by the Park Authority Board, an annual goal was set to reduce energy consumption by 5% across. By signing on to the Cool Counties Initiative, the Board agreed to stop increasing carbon emissions by 2010 and then reduce the output of carbon by 2% per year for every year after that until 2050 (resulting in an 80% reduction). In the first full year of the effort, total carbon emissions were reduced well ahead of the Cool Counties goal.

Establish Site Specific Plans
As important as the big goals of total carbon reduction are, what really makes a difference are the site specific plans. Each park manager had a management goal of completing and implementing an energy conservation plan for their facility. These plans included looking at many of the simple energy conservation measures as well as looking to larger changes for the future. A tremendous amount of energy efficiency can be accomplished with easy to find products from the local home improvement store like: insulation, high efficiency lighting, programmable thermostats and motion sensing light switches. Many people think the answer will come from some great new technology, like hydrogen fuel cells. New technologies will clearly play a big role in the future, but it is important not to miss the low hanging fruit that simple energy conservation can give us today. Currently, NVRPA has implemented the following emission reducing tactics:

  • High efficiency lighting including motion sensing switches.

  • Programmable thermostats

  • Retrofitting buildings with better windows and insulation

  • Use of high efficiency pumps

  • Geo-thermal heat pumps

  • Green building techniques

  • Active solar power generation

  • Introduction of more electric utility vehicles in the parks

  • Hybrid and natural gas (CNG) burning vehicles

    Look at Lifecycle Costs
    In the world of government purchasing, low bids usually win the day. In an era of changing technology to improve energy efficiency, it is vital to consider the life cycle costs of products. From compact florescent lighting that costs more than traditional incandescent bulbs but have a much longer life and uses a fraction of the power, to whole buildings that can now be built with green technology that may cost more initially but results in energy savings for the life of the structure, the long-term view is critical. The principle of considering the full life cycle costs of any energy consuming equipment or facility was part of the Park Authority’s energy conservation policy.

    In 2006, the Park Authority decided to put in place a 2.5 mile holiday light show at Bull Run Regional Park, responding to public support for a show to replace one offered by a contractor for many years. The Authority asked for proposals for both incandescent lights as well as LED lights and then decided to purchase the first all-LED light show of its size in the country, even though its initial purchase cost was higher than traditional incandescent lights would have been. The durability of the LED lights means significantly lower maintenance costs, they last much longer and use just 10% of the energy that it takes to light a traditional bulb. These factors will more than make up for the difference in the purchase price in just a few years.

    Reward Success
    To reward the best efforts in energy conservation and emissions reductions, NVRPA added an award to their annual achievement awards to recognize the park facility that produced the greatest reduction in energy consumption. In 2006, the prize went to Brambleton Regional Golf Course for reducing the electrical consumption in the Clubhouse by 27%. In 2007 the award went to Cameron Run Regional Park which reduced their energy consumption by almost 21%.

    Educate the Public
    The Authority hosted an Energy Conservation Fair at Potomac Overlook Regional Park to help educate the public about what they can do to use less fossil fuel. This is only one example of the many programs the agency has put forth to better engage the public on not only the Park Authority’s efforts, but the opportunity that each member of society has as well. Informing the public of an agency’s energy conservation efforts is almost as important as the efforts themselves, since this can encourage others to do their part. We would like to see some level of environmental education be a part of every park visitor’s outdoor recreational experience.

Building on these successful efforts, we are working to develop new energy education exhibits to be used at Potomac Overlook Regional Park in the next year.

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