The EPA has launched an initiative to show businesses in the Washington-Baltimore region that they can cut their utility bills by investing in energy-saving lights and computers, and by making their buildings more energy efficient.

The area was designated an “Energy Star Region” Nov. 1 as part of an effort to intensively promote three of the agency’s voluntary energy efficiency programs — Green Lights, Energy Star Buildings, and Energy Star Computers — in one geographic region.

“This is a pilot for the country,” said Mirka F. della Cava, of EPA’s Global Change Division, which is in charge of the program. “What happens here will hopefully be duplicated across the country in other metropolitan areas.”

The goal of the project is to reduce pollution that results from energy production by encouraging businesses and organizations to adopt energy-saving technologies and devices shown to be cost-effective. Under the Energy Star programs, businesses could reduce their electrical use by about 40 percent, the EPA estimates.

If those programs were used in commercial buildings throughout the Washington-Baltimore area, the lowered energy demand would reduce annual emissions of carbon dioxide by 11.8 million metric tons, sulfur dioxide by 82,200 pounds, and nitrogen oxides by 40,700 pounds, according to the EPA. That would be equivalent to taking 2.2 million cars off the road, or planting 1.6 million acres of trees, according to EPA figures.

Such reductions could directly benefit the Bay. Airborne pollutants are an important source of pollution to the Chesapeake. Between a quarter and a third of all the nitrogen reaching the Bay is the result of air pollution. Of particular concern is nitrogen which, in excessive amounts, causes excessive algae growth that reduces water quality. Reducing the amount of nitrogen reaching the Bay has been a central part of the Chesapeake restoration effort, but reductions have proven to be difficult to achieve.

Also, sulfur dioxide emissions are the major component of acid rain, which has been linked to fish kills in the Bay and some tributaries, both from increased acidity during critical spawning times and by leaching metals — such as aluminum — from the soil and into the water where they can be toxic to fish larvae, including striped bass.

The EPA has started promoting the regional program through public service advertisements in newspapers, notices in association newsletters and trade publications, billboards in mass transit systems, and — officials hope — through word-of-mouth promotion by program participants.

The largest component of the regional initiative will be Green Lights. In the 3 year-old program, EPA provides information, technical support, and public recognition to businesses and other organizations that agree to complete within 5 years the installation of new energy-efficient lighting systems — typically at a cost of 50 cents to $2 per square foot — to the extent that they are profitable and do not compromise quality.

The expertise provided by the EPA, which shows how the initial investment can pay for itself over a period of years, is intended to convince large energy users that they can save money by re-examining what many have considered to be an unadjustable operating expense.

“What the whole energy-efficient market is saying is that you basically have $20 bills sitting in your ceiling. We’re putting everything you need together to go and get that,” della Cava said. “It is a sound, low-risk investment. We’re trying to have people look at it that way versus looking at it as just overhead.”

Besides energy savings, the EPA helps business identify rebate and other programs that many utilities offer commercial customers that adopt energy-efficient technologies.

Nationwide, more than 1,100 industries, businesses, and nonprofit groups, as well as a number of federal, state, and local government agencies, participate in Green Lights. Combined, they represent about 4 billion square feet of facility space. In individual buildings, the Green Lights program has saved American Express $280,000 a year in energy costs; Boeing $131,000 a year; Mobil $125,000; and the state of Maryland’s Department of Education Headquarters $100,000.

While the program nationwide has focused on large energy users, della Cava said the regional approach will allow the agency to assist small and medium businesses as well. The regional approach will also weave together two newer energy conservation programs to maximize energy savings.

Energy Star Computers stems from a partnership between the EPA and leading computer companies to promote energy-efficient computers and related equipment. Manufacturers representing about 70 percent of the computer market and 80 percent of the laser printer market have signed agreements with the EPA to develop products that automatically “power down” when not being used, thereby cutting energy use between 50 percent and 70 percent. These products are identified by the EPA Energy Star logo. Computers are the fastest growing electricity load in the business world, accounting for about 5 percent of commercial electrical consumption. Without action, that figure is expected to grow to 10 percent by the year 2000.

Energy Star Buildings is a program in which the EPA works with building owners to take advantage of the full range of energy-saving opportunities, from lights to equipment to building modifications. Modifications include things such things as more efficient heating, cooling, and hot water systems, as well as the use of controls that automatically cut down on energy use — such as lighting — when there is reduced demand. In the region, della Cava said the EPA hopes to find several businesses or organizations that will serve as showcases for the Energy Star Building program.

For more information about the Energy Star Region, or EPA’s other energy efficiency programs, call the Green Lights and Energy Star Hotline, (202) 775-6650.

Energy Facts

  • Lighting accounts for 20 percent to 25 percent of all electricity sold in the United States.

  • Lighting for industry, stores, offices, and warehouses represents 80 percent to 90 percent of total lighting electricity use.

  • If energy-efficient lighting were used where profitable, the nation's electricity demand would be cut by more than 10 percent. The pollution savings would be the same as taking 44 million cars off the road.

— Source: EPA