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Afterimage Review

Green Technologies and Government Owned Buildings

green technologies
When will people view green technologies as the next step in modernizing government owned buildings?

When will people view green technologies as the next step in modernizing government owned buildings?

2000, 2004, 2008, 2012.  The candidates from the Democratic Party state that they are willing to invest funding into researching emerging “green” technologies, but it’s usually an issue of lower priority on their agendas.

The Republicans never state that they’re outright opposed to researching green technologies (that’s because most of them aren’t), but they are less interested in investing public funds into researching implementing green technologies in government owned buildings and government owned vehicles than the Democrats are.

The Green Party candidates emphasize researching and implementing green technologies is the only way to ensure that we’ll have clean air and clean water into the 22nd and the 23rd centuries, and that this will not only not eliminate existing jobs in the private sector, it will create quite a few new ones.  And the Green Party candidates win a handful of seats in the local election, usually mostly in California, and they receive a small fraction of a percentage of the votes in the national elections.  And the Green Party candidates receive impressively little attention in the mainstream media.  And here we go again…

Government Owned Buildings

While I was writing this article, I could not find any website which lists the precise number of buildings which our Federal government currently owns.  If we include our overseas colonies and territories in addition to our 50 states and Washington, D.C., and we add up all of the office buildings which the Federal government owns, our embassies and consulates throughout the world, our Federal prisons, our military bases, our military academies, the Federal courts, the buildings within our national parks, national historic sites, national forests, Federally owned museums, the booths that the Customs and Immigration And Naturalization agents work in at our borders with Mexico and Canada, I suspect that our Federal government owns at least several thousand buildings.

Some of the housing on the Native American reservations is directly owned by the Department Of Housing And Urban Development, so those buildings are Federally owned too.  If we add the buildings which are owned by our state, county, city, town and village governments, including elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools, recreation centers, police stations, fire departments, public housing, state universities, community colleges, airports and train stations (which are often owned by transit agencies which are regional intergovernmental agencies) that number grows much higher.

How many of those government buildings have photovoltaic panels and mini wind turbines installed on the roof tops?

As far back as the latter half of the 1970’s, former President Carter had installed photovoltaic panels on the roof of The White House.  In 1981, former President Reagan removed the rooftop photovoltaic panels that President Carter had installed.  It is not entirely clear why former President Reagan opted to remove the rooftop photovoltaic panels that his predecessor had installed, but many political analysts suspect that he was likely trying to send a message to people who were active in advocating for allocating Federal funding for researching green technologies as well as to the entire country that he was notably uninterested in exploring implementing green technologies in Federally owned buildings.

Our Federal government came into existence in the 1780’s, and therefore our Federal government has owned buildings since the 1780’s.  Our city, county, state and Federal governments had no problems installing electricity in the Federally owned buildings at the end of the 1890’s and during the earliest years of the 1900’s.  The various agencies of our town, village, city, county, state and Federal governments all viewed installing landline telephones, modern plumbing, insulation within the walls, fire extinguishers, fire sprinkler systems, burglar and fire alarms as part of the process of upgrading and modernizing older buildings, and this was always viewed as being progressive.

Our town, city, village, county, state and Federal government agencies have installed security cameras as well as metal detectors at the entrances to most of our government owned buildings.

In more recent years, our city, county, state and Federal governments have installed CO detectors and wireless communications in government owned buildings, and in the cases of buildings which our Federal government feels needs the highest levels of security, they’ve also installed devices which can detect the presence of substances which could be used in biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.  When our government agencies installed all of these technologies within government owned buildings as well as in office buildings in which our various government agencies rent office space, these were all viewed as being part of the processes of modernization and keeping pace with modern technologies.  So, when will people view green technologies as the next step in modernizing government owned buildings?

Leading By Example

The initial cost of installing photovoltaic panels and mini wind turbines onto a roof is often high.  In the cases of older buildings, the rooftops might not strong enough to support the weight of a full set of PV panels, and so the roofs many need to be reinforced with new steel lally columns and beams before PV panels can be installed.

Installing the panels also involves rewiring some of the circuitry in the buildings, and all of this is not only costly but it involves temporarily closing parts of the buildings.  It takes at least a few years to recover the initial costs of purchasing and installing the PV panels and the mini wind turbines, before the overall reduction of electricity and heating costs compensate for the initial investments.

Our Presidents and Vice Presidents are elected for 4 year terms, our Senators are elected for 6 year terms, our Representatives are elected for 2 year terms, and the term lengths of various state assemblies varies from state to state.  Notably few candidates want to make campaign speeches in which they promise their constituents that they are advocating for spending on projects which won’t recover the costs until after their terms of office are nearly over.

In fact, many candidates from the two major parties thoroughly understand that if they make campaign speeches in which they state that it will take a couple of months just to order PV panels and mini wind turbines, another few weeks before the supplies are delivered, another few weeks to install them, and then after 3 or 4 years of very low electricity and heating bills, the initial costs will finally be recovered, they’re pretty much guaranteeing that they’ll lose an election.

The photovoltaic panels which are available today are far more efficient than the ones that were available back in the 1970’s when former President Carter opted to install them on the roof of The White House.  Scientists throughout the world have invented quite a few materials over the course of the past three and a half decades which enable companies to manufacture photovoltaic roof top panels which can create, store and distribute electricity far more efficiently than the early models of photovoltaic panels.

If our village, town, city, county, state and Federal governments were to opt to install photovoltaic panels and mini wind turbines onto the rooftops of most of our government owned buildings including our military bases, our military academies, community colleges, state colleges and universities, prisons, as well as the governments’ office buildings, that would actually solve only a small percentage of our national annual energy needs.  However, this would be the age old concept of leading by example.  Once these technologies become commonplace in government owned buildings, it is likely that the private sector will embrace these technologies on a larger scale too.

What Has Been Done So Far

Not every government agency has opted to wait for direct orders from the Federal government to begin to install green technologies into their buildings.  In recent years, the senior administrative staff members in various Federal agencies have opted to begin to install photovoltaic panels on the roofs of their office buildings throughout the country, and so far this has been very successful- a comprehensive list of these buildings can be found here.

While the officers who are in charge of operating most of the military bases in the U.S. have not yet opted to research installing photovoltaic panels on the rooftops of the buildings on the bases that they are responsible for, a small handful of military officers have opted to do so.  Some of the U.S. Navy bases in Hawaii do now have photovoltaic panels installed on the rooftops of the buildings on the bases.  I don’t know of any instances yet in which any Federally owned buildings have mini wind turbines installed on the rooftops yet, but it is entirely possible that the administrators in some government agencies or some military officers are presently researching this technology too.  Our Federal government does not necessarily announce all of the various projects that they are currently researching immediately, sometimes we don’t find out for many months or even years that people within our government looked into ideas that we would have supported (or opposed, for that matter.)

The same changes have also been occurring at the local levels.  While no state or county government in the U.S. has yet to order that photovoltaic panels or wind turbines be installed on all of the rooftops of state or county owned buildings, some cities and towns are opting to install photovoltaic panels or wind turbines (or a combination of both) onto the rooftops of their government owned buildings and schools.

No one is claiming that these are 100% clean, or that these will solve all of the country’s electricity needs.  Photovoltaic panels and wind turbines are made from a combination of glass, various metal alloys and plastic composites.  It takes electricity and energy at factories to manufacture them, quite a few chemicals are used in the processes of manufacturing them, and they do need to be transported from the factories where they are manufactured to the buildings where they are going to be installed.

These are presently among the cleanest known technologies, they are easy to purchase, the installation process is not particularly time consuming, the process of installing them creates only very minimal disruption (or “down time”), they are easy to maintain, and they are a very clean method of supplementing the energy needs of a building.  In many cases, buildings which have photovoltaic panels or wind turbines on the rooftops end up feeding electricity back into the grid, and the electricity companies end up buying the surplus electricity back from the owners.

I do also want to mention here that in the particular instance of some of the oldest buildings within our National Parks system which are National Historic Sites and some buildings which are state historic sites, there may be some exceptions in the cases of buildings which we may not want to further alter beyond the modern technologies which have already been implemented

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I will be writing a Part II article about green technologies in which I discuss government owned vehicles and biofuels as well as a Part III article in this series about the technologies which would enable us to recycle wastewater into usable drinking water in buildings and complexes that are owned by our Federal, state, county, city and town governments throughout the U.S. in two upcoming issues of The Pavlovic Today.

 

 

  • Copyright: Ase

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About the author

Scott Benowitz

Scott Benowitz

Scott Benowitz is a staff writer for Afterimage Review. He holds an MSc in Comparative Politics from The London School of Economics & Political Science and a B.A. in International Studies from Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Scott lives in Rye, N.Y. photo credit: Liza Margulies