Metro Leaves the Light on for You, Like It or Not
Monday, October 8, 2007
At Metro's headquarters in downtown Washington, the lights pop on at 5:30 every weekday morning. Hours before the masses arrive for work, the building glows like a silent, hulking eight-story spaceship.
Every evening, most employees go home at 5, but the lights stay on for three more hours, bright enough that passersby can see the artwork in individual offices. No "Starry Night," apparently.
The electric bill was $1,775,194.96 last year: nearly $1,400 per employee.
Workers worried about global warming -- or Metro's budget deficit -- might be inclined to turn the lights off when they're not needed, but they can't. Metro offices have no individual switches.
Used to be, the lights were on all the time. About two decades ago, Metro installed a computer system to control them, which was considered energy-efficient at that time, officials said.
Needless to say, no one thinks that anymore.
"That wouldn't be efficient. That's obvious," said Jeff Niesz, business development director for Pepco Energy Services, which Metro has hired to reduce energy costs.
More than 40 percent of U.S energy is consumed by commercial or residential buildings, and that figure is poised to rise as the population increases and more buildings go up. But measures abound that could cancel out much of that growth: They include replacing obsolete equipment and simply turning off lights.
Metro is one of the biggest power consumers in the Washington region, and it is desperately trying to trim its power bill as energy costs soar. Metro pays $26 million a year on average for electricity, not including power for the trains. Propulsion power cost $45.6 million last year, an increase of 18 percent over the year before.
The drain on the budget has had a ripple effect. General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. is proposing higher parking fees and fares, setting off a cascade of complaints across the region. His latest proposal, to be discussed by the Metro board Thursday, would generate $109 million toward a projected $173 million shortfall in next year's budget.
Catoe said he was "absolutely stunned" to find he couldn't turn off his light when he took over as chief executive nine months ago.
"Logic tells you that if you cut the lights, you cut the costs," he said, stupefied. And "if people are driving by this building at night and all the lights are on," they think Metro is being wasteful.