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Climate Change Blog

  • 11
  • December
  • 2015

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Department of Energy’s Plan to Reduce Greenhouse Gases

This is the second of a series of posts examining how agencies plan to meet President Obama’s sustainability goals for Federal agencies as announced in a March 2015 executive order. These goals include a target to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agencies by at least 40 percent by 2025. Pursuant to the President’s March executive order, the Department of Energy (“DOE”) published its own Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan (“SSPP”) in June 2015.

This is not the first sustainability plan published by the Department. In fact, DOE established sustainability goals in 2010. The 2015 Plan reports on the progress the Department has made since 2010 and describes the Department’s strategies for achieving the new goals laid out in the March executive order. The 2015 SSPP consists of ten goals, five of which are climate-related. These goals are discussed further below.

Past Progress and Strategies for the Future

As mentioned above, DOE first published a strategic sustainability performance plan in 2010 and reports significant progress on its previous goals as of the year 2014. DOE asserts that this progress lays the foundation for the agency to meet the objectives of the executive order issued by the President in March 2015. The previous goals do not correspond exactly to the goals established by the executive order, some of which require a new baseline year or establish new end goal targets. Regardless, DOE’s progress through 2014 provides some insight into which targets will be easily met and which will provide more of a challenge.

Specifically, the Department reports that it is on track to meet all of its climate-related goals except for those pertaining to fleet management and energy performance contracts. The Department’s self-reported progress and strategies for climate-related goals are discussed in more detail below.

Table summarizing DOE’s FY 2014 performance with regards to prior sustainability goals. Source: DOE’s 2015 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan.

Goal 1: GHG Gas Emissions

The March executive order requires Federal agencies to reduce overall GHG emissions by at least 40 percent by 2025. DOE has committed to reducing scope 1 & 2 GHG emissions by 50 percent and scope 3 GHG emissions by 25 percent by 2025 relative to a FY 2008 baseline. Scope 1 GHG emissions are from sources owned or controlled by the agency. Scope 2 refers to those emissions resulting from the generation of electricity, heat, or steam purchased by the agency. Scope 3 emissions are emissions coming from sources not owned or directly controlled by the agency, but which are nevertheless related to agency activities (e.g., delivery services or employee commuting).

DOE’s 2015 SSPP expresses optimism at meeting these goals. Through 2014, DOE has already reduced scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions by 34.4 percent and scope 3 GHG emissions by 23.8 percent relative to FY 2008. DOE attributes this success “to the improved performance and overall efficiency of its facilities.” For example, DOE has optimized its sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) capture programs, resulting in a 52 percent reduction of SF6 since FY 2008. The Department has also installed large scale renewable energy projects at various DOE sites. Finally, the Department has made some progress towards reducing emissions from employee commuting, which accounts for 57 percent of the agency’s scope 3 GHG emissions. Despite this progress, the Department does predict that future reductions will be challenging because of an anticipated rise in energy-intensive activities at DOE sites. However, DOE remains optimistic that it is on track to meet its 2025 emissions goals.

Goal 3: Renewable Energy

DOE reports it is confident that it will meet President Obama’s goal to increase renewable energy use to 30 percent of total electricity use. As of 2014, 19.5 percent of DOE’s electricity use was renewable energy, exceeding the Department’s target of 7.5 percent. This was accomplished through on-site renewable energy generation, renewable energy siting bonuses, and the purchase of renewable energy credits. Going forward, DOE plans to continue to encourage the use of on-site renewables in all new construction projects.

Goal 5: Fleet Management

Obama’s executive order requires agencies to reduce fleet-wide per-mile greenhouse gas emissions from agency fleet vehicles relative to a FY 2014 baseline. Specifically, agencies must reduce such emissions by a minimum of 4 percent by the end of FY 2017, 15 percent by FY 2020, and 30 percent by FY 2025.

While the Department’s Plan reports that DOE is currently meeting or exceeding all of its interim goal targets for petroleum use, alternative fuel use, and alternative fuel vehicle acquisition, it is less clear on whether the Department is on track to meet the emission reduction goals. The report states that DOE “will be challenged in the coming years to achieve further progress.” Still, the Department aims to reduce emissions by encouraging reductions in petroleum consumption and increasing the acquisition of alternative fuel vehicles.

Goal 8: Energy Performance Contracts

DOE’s 2015 SSPP expresses the Department’s continued commitment to the President’s earlier challenge to Federal agencies to enter into $4 billion in performance-based contracts by December 2016. The SSPP also commits the Department to setting new annual performance contract targets beginning in FY 2017. Thus far, the Department is well short of its goal: through FY 2014, DOE awarded $155.4 million in Energy Savings Performance Contracts and Utility Energy Savings Contracts. The Department explains that performance contracts present challenges to DOE due to the unique nature and mission requirements of several DOE sites, which often result in heightened safety, security, or energy requirements.

Goal 10: Climate Change Resilience

To align its efforts with the strategies outlined in Obama’s executive order, DOE has updated its Climate Change Adaptation Plan. DOE reports that its efforts contribute both to international climate science research and help make DOE facilities more resilient in the face of climate-related impacts. With regards to climate science, DOE is engaged in several research partnerships (including partnerships with the University of Maryland, NASA, and EPA) and asserts that its scientific experts and advanced computing capabilities offer significant benefits to such research efforts. To improve preparedness at its own facilities, DOE has engaged in several information gathering exercises from DOE sites, including three comprehensive site-level assessments to quantify and assess climate change risks and vulnerabilities. It plans on completing more in the future. The Department has also integrated climate adaptation concerns into all applicable DOE orders, policies, and planning documents.

Posted at 12/11/2015 4:41 PM

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