EXPERT VOICES: Sam Brooks, Associate Director of the Washington DC DGS

Sam Brooks is the Associate Director of the DC Department of General Services (DGS) and head of its Energy Division

After an 18-month intensive public engagement process, Washington, DC Mayor Vincent C. Gray released the 'Sustainable DC Plan' last week. From creating new jobs to improving transportation options to reducing building energy use, the plan sets forth a bold vision for the District of Columbia’s future.

One of the specific action items we are particularly excited about is development of large-scale renewable energy to power city buildings. Beyond clear environmental and health benefits, this concept has compelling financial benefits: lower energy bills, no debt, and vastly reduced exposure to price risk in the traditional electricity market.

There's no doubt the District has made great strides in renewable energy expansion. Our renewable portfolio standard is moving to 20% by 2020 for all electricity and was updated last year to require 2.5% local solar generation by 2023. That translates to developing more than 250 MW of solar energy within the District’s 69 square miles in the next decade. The District Department of the Environment coordinates a Green Power Community Partnership whose public and private purchases of over 1 Billion kilowatt hours earned us US EPA’s distinction as the #1 Green Power Community two years in a row. My agency, the Department of General Services (DGS), recently signed an electricity contract that makes the District the #1 green-powered government in the United States.

Now, we are looking to go further. Rather than just purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), the District government is proposing to purchase renewable energy straight from the source. This framework -- which includes fixed-price renewable energy supply, something an increasing number of large corporations have pursued in recent years -- would reduce costs and protect against price volatility in the electricity market. Further, because the renewable generation would occur in our region, we’d attack our biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions – electricity, which accounted for 71% of the District government’s total CO2 emissions in 2011. A shift to purchasing 50% from local/regional wind would amount to approximately 86,000 tons of CO2 reduction.

The economic benefits of a potential deal are particularly compelling. Rates for traditional ‘brown power,’ now driven by unpredictable natural gas prices, have fluctuated dramatically over the past several decades. And, though rates are currently at historic lows, most observers believe prices will rise over the next 5-10-20 years. Thus, it's particularly advantageous not only to improve current rates – but to secure low prices for years to come.

We have begun a procurement process that will foster maximum competition among the private entities that would own the power generation infrastructure and supply electricity. Our focus is on wind, though it's not the only option on the table. As we move through this process, DGS will conduct rigorous due diligence of potential contractors and their plans for generation.
In the end, we are confident this process will pay dividends for the District of Columbia – our conservative estimates indicate a long-term purchase of regional wind power could save more than $100 million over 20 years. That's green -- in every sense of the word.