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Brooks pushes energy efficiency for DC

Former DC Council candidate Sam Brooks has been hired to lead a new sustainability and energy division in the DC government. He sat down for an interview about how the District can be a world leader in sustainability and energy conservation.

Photo by Keoki Seu on Flickr.

Since his 2006 DC Council bid, Brooks has been busy making a name for himself in energy efficiency contracting and green workforce development. In February, he was tapped to put that experience to good use as head of the Sustainability & Energy Division at the District's newly-formed Department of General Services.

Q: You're the new head of a new division of a new agency. What exactly do you do?

The Department of General Services constructs, modernizes, and manages the District's government facilities. I've heard people refer to DGS as DC's GSA. That's part of it. When Mayor Gray created DGS, he charged us with overseeing one of the largest commitments to public school modernization in the United States and we're doing it with a steadfast commitment to sustainability. Our portfolio includes 30 million square feet of real estate that encompasses schools, office buildings, fire houses, police stations, recreation centers, and more.

DGS's Sustainability & Energy Division specifically deals with supply of and demand for the government's energy. We acquire the energy commodities for DC government facilities, from electricity to natural gas to water, and we pay the bills—all of which is no small task. In many respects, we quite literally keep the lights on.

But the supply of energy is just one component. A core mission for the Sustainability & Energy Division is to create a portfolio of government facilities that run at optimal efficiency in both energy consumption and cost. From efficient buildings with minimum energy consumption, to first-class stormwater and waste management, to maximizing the District's tree canopy, to even looking at the potential for urban agriculture. My team and I have our hands in all of these initiatives."

Q: What kind of impact do you think DGS can really make in the city with respect to sustainability?

Our agency will have a tremendous impact on the city's sustainability. We are already building from a strong foundation. For instance, all of our new construction projects are LEED certified, and we recently won a national Green Ribbon Schools award from the Obama administration. But there's no doubt we want to go even further. Much further.

Mayor Gray has laid out an inspired vision for the city. The SustainableDC initiative has put forward goals such as reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in the next 20 years. So, it definitely feels like we have the wind in our sails. In my opinion, the Mayor has not gotten enough credit for his bold vision for sustainability. It's a vision that is going to make real change in the District.

Our director, Brian Hanlon, has a goal to lead by example with regard to sustainability and green features in our portfolio. Our goal is nothing less than to become a beacon for sustainability efforts around the world."

Q: Any plans to make some of these goals actionable, to actually get some specific initiatives underway?

DGS has an ambitious agenda over the short- and mid-term and we're moving aggressively to execute this game plan. Here are some examples:

The Mayor delivered on his commitment to energy efficiency with his FY13 budget: DGS has roughly $10 million for retrofits next fiscal year (starting October 1, 2012). A retrofit is a project that removes older, less energy efficient equipment and replaces it with new, more energy efficient systems. We've already mapped out a specific road map for those funds, and anticipate at least $2.5 million in annual energy savings as a result of this investment.

Also, we've recently launched a composting pilot program in 10 schools (including one in each of the District's 8 wards) that's seen an amazing response to from students, teachers, and community members. We're very bullish about this program's prospects and we're looking to make significant progress to reduce DCPS's waste diversion rate this upcoming school year.

Finally, I can only say so much at this juncture, but by next winter DGS will have a building energy monitoring program that I candidly believe other jurisdictions will be lining up to replicate.

Q: What are the department's plans where solar or other renewable sources of energy are concerned?

In just the past few months, we've made considerable headway with respect to renewable energy installations at our government facilities. One of the most exciting developments in this space might be the progress we've made with respect to third-party financing for solar installations.

In the not-so-distant future, we hope to dramatically increase the percentage of the city's energy supply from onsite renewable sources and to do so with minimal upfront capital costs to District taxpayers.

Q: You came on during a turbulent time for the District government and you've had a front row view of a government that's come under scrutiny in the past year. Is this DC government position meeting your expectations?

The job has definitely exceeded what were already high expectations. There's no hiding that it's been a tough PR year for the DC government, but I must say that I've encountered so many people in our government that are just extraordinarily talented and dedicated to this city. I work with some really amazing people at DGS. We have strong leadership in the agency and throughout the District government as a whole, and we have the support of the council for our initiatives. I believe we're doing some amazing things to make DC a leader in sustainability.

Before moving to California, Jaime Fearer was a community planner in Greenbelt, MD, and she lived in Trinidad, DC, where she served on the neighborhood associationís board. Jaime is now Planning & Policy Manager for California Walks


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Good move. Some simple things
1. MPD cars should not be allowed to sit with their engines running except in specific situations. I see the V6 cop cars parked for 30minutes with their engines running while two people chat.
2. Multiple police cars zooming off for a minor incident. 3. Fire departments send out huge trucks etc to deal with minor incidents that do not involve fires, when a few guys in a pickup, with appropriate tools, can investigate.

by SJE on Jul 24, 2012 2:08 pm • linkreport

None of those are as simple as you may think, SJE. Police and first responders never know what situations they may be attending and must always be prepared.

by selxic on Jul 24, 2012 3:01 pm • linkreport

Nice to see a city agency taking sustainability seriously, and nice to see that actions and deeds are prevailing.

Thanks for sharing.

by William on Jul 24, 2012 3:14 pm • linkreport

selxic: I agree that first responders never know the full extent of situations they may be attending. At the same time, I regularly see a lot of overkill, and the overkill costs a lot of money. see e.g.
I have lived in other countries, and NEVER seen the sort of massive response you see in the USA.

by SJE on Jul 24, 2012 3:29 pm • linkreport

IOW, there are cheaper and more rational solutions available. The fact that a first responder lacks perfect information does not justify the huge expenditure of resources.

by SJE on Jul 24, 2012 3:31 pm • linkreport

cutting down on EMS repsonses to the said pickup truck would be an excellent idea.

I'd also like to see more cops on bikes.

That or a prius.

Finding a way to get delivery trucks to better coordinate deliveries and reduce their sizes would be amazing, altough probably too much for this office.

by charlie on Jul 24, 2012 3:44 pm • linkreport

IOW, there are cheaper and more rational solutions available.

Yep and it's called universal health care! Then people could actually go get care instead of calling 911.

But I find dubious the argument that this costs lots of money because these guys are in a fire truck/ambulance instead of a pickup truck. The vast majority of the cost is the people doing the work, not the kind of vehicle they're riding around in.

by MLD on Jul 24, 2012 3:45 pm • linkreport

Police officers on bikes work in a very limited set of environments. Likewise, there are a lot of things that go into vehicle selection including ability to service the vehicle and size for passengers and equipment.

by selxic on Jul 24, 2012 3:52 pm • linkreport

Completely agree with the idling. See it altogether too much. Seen it with Metroaccess where the guy is taking a nap in the back with the van idling... Seriously?

by Kyle W on Jul 24, 2012 4:23 pm • linkreport

I once reported what smelled like a gas leak. I expected someone from the gas company to come over. Instead, a full hose truck, a ladder truck and a smaller pickup arrived. About 15-20 guys. They couldnt smell a(I have a pretty good nose), so they went home. Thats a lot of manpower, diesel, and wear and tear on the vehicles.

Funny thing: I have a friend who is an expert on gas lines. If it WAS a gas leak, the first reaction is to stop the leak, which might require someone to act on the central line. This does not require 15-20 guys.

So, that's fire trucks.
What about police? Do they all need Crown Vics (a big V6 or V8) and Harley's? Montgomery County does fine with smaller cars. Do they need overwhelming force for every interaction with potential criminals? I've seen 6-8 cars for a traffic stop with only two suspects, and the police are mostly hanging out. Why does it require two cars (a technician and a police officer), to check the speed cameras on 16th street?

All this costs a lot of money and energy. Reducing it would save money for the city, preserve our first responders for when they are actually needed, and be "green"

by SJE on Jul 24, 2012 6:35 pm • linkreport

I'm glad you chose to use Australia as an example since they face many similar challenges that police forces in the US face, charlie. The same wikipedia article that you link to states "Most general patrol cars are Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons." Those are very far away from their cousins the Chevy Impala and the Ford Crown Vic or Taurus.

As I mentioned before, first responders don't know what kind of situation they are going to respond to, SJE. Gas leaks are very dangerous. A fire department responding to a situation involving a fire hazard doesn't seem unreasonable. Likewise, it's easy to drive by a scene and criticize officers without knowing what type of situation they are facing.

by selxic on Jul 24, 2012 7:54 pm • linkreport

*Those are not very far away from their cousins the Chevy Impala and the Ford Crown Vic or Taurus.

by selxic on Jul 24, 2012 7:55 pm • linkreport

Selxic: I was born and raised in Australia, so I am very familiar with how things are done down under, at least in Western Australia, which is sort of the Texas equivalent.
1. The Commodore and Falcon are slightly smaller and more fuel efficient than your usual US equivalent. The most powerful cars are reserved for high speed pursuits. Motorbikes are not huge gas-guzzling Harley's
2. Police cars that are waiting usually have their engines off.
3. It is rare to see more than one police car respond to a situation.
4. Speed cameras are run by private companies, so the police do not have to be involved.
5. Police helicopters are less frequently used than the USA, but planes more so (at least from anectodatal evidence).
6. Fire trucks are rarely seen, except for actual FIRES.
7. Ambulance is separate from Fire. If you are injured, you dont get the police and fire coming, with the ambulance to take you to hospital. An ambulance comes, and they do the diagnosis, treatment and transport.
8. Fire trucks and ambulances appear less "heavy" than the USA.

by SJE on Jul 24, 2012 8:55 pm • linkreport

Sydney has a fleet of VW beetles.

In 2007, police in Perth started moving more towards 4 cylinder cars

by SJE on Jul 24, 2012 9:04 pm • linkreport

That's all nice, SJE, but you're still ignoring the demands and needs in the US and taking much of the work responders do for granted.

by selxic on Jul 25, 2012 8:45 am • linkreport

My suggestion is to provide all homeowners with the large recycling bins promised under Mayor Fenty's administration but it never happened. When questioned, I was told the city did not have the money. Well, we have a surplus now.

The small bins are too small. If you recycle properly, garbage should be a small portion of what you throw out and recyclables the large portion.

by Steph on Jul 25, 2012 9:05 am • linkreport

Selxic: The demands and needs in the USA are partly based on cultural expectations, not some greater level of risk. The UK did not respond to the IRA by putting all cops in V6 cars, but kept them on the streets, often without guns.

I am not taking for granted the work done by first responders. I am asking that we consider whether the costly level of service necessary.

You can always justify more service based on the possibility that it will be needed. That is the same logic that gives us small country towns with SWAT teams and tanks, and bigger communities doing SWAT raids for library tickets and non-violent drug possession.

Good leadership and budget management requires local governments to consider cost, especially when "first responders" are one of the biggest budget items on state and local governments.

by SJE on Jul 25, 2012 11:02 am • linkreport

Or, to put it another way: explain to me what are those "demands" of the USA that require MPD officers to keep the engines running on V6 cars while they chat under K-street.

by SJE on Jul 25, 2012 11:06 am • linkreport

SJE: The crown vic has a 4.6L V8.

by goldfish on Jul 25, 2012 11:27 am • linkreport

Two suggestions:

* Get rid of all city-provided car trips for trips within the reach of transit. Including for to brass.

This will make the city more aware of the problems that transit faces, as well as save energy and money on all those city cars.

* Kick parking enforcement out of their cars blocking the streets. Parking enforcement is a job that can be very well done walking. In fact, DC is the only place I am aware of where parking cops block the roads sitting in their cars.

The benefits are again plenty. Less cost on cars and gas, as well as health benefits for all the cops involved, which is good for them and the city which will pay less for their insurance.

by Jasper on Jul 26, 2012 9:37 am • linkreport

Here are the things i'd work on for improving DC Govt Sustainability.

1) All Publically owned structures shall have PV and Solar thermal where practical.

2) I'd convert the city car fleet to Electric cars. (It's a small city, no reason to ever worry about range).

3) I'd convert the city police car fleet to Hybrids. Either plug ins like the Volt or the Hybrid Toyota Camry ). Convert the Paddy wagons to the Ford electric transit connect

4) convert the pickup and utility trucks to plug in hybrids like the VIA Motors.

5) broaden composting, recycling programs citywide.

6) Push Green roof initiatives city wide. Either white or roof gardens. Give tax credits to push absorbtive roofs.

7) push rain barrels and on site water retention.

8) refit all city buildings for grey water management.

by patb on Aug 1, 2012 11:08 pm • linkreport

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