Lab at St. Elizabeths is local team's entry in green-building research center competition

By Jonathan O'Connell
Monday, July 5, 2010; 9

Energy technology companies, universities, local governments and commercial property owners from Delaware to West Virginia have formed a team that is competing to land $130 million in federal funding for a regional green-building research center.

Because buildings account for almost 40 percent of energy usage and carbon emissions nationally, six federal agencies led by the Energy Department sought applications from regions interested in creating a research center to "develop, expand and commercialize innovative energy efficient building systems technologies, designs and best practices for national and international distribution."

Only one region in the country will be named and will receive all of the funding, including $22 million in fiscal 2010 DOE funds and additional money from the Commerce Department and the Small Business Administration. Applications were due May 6 and a decision is expected by August.

The local submission proposes building a research laboratory at the east campus of the former St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast D.C., across the street from where the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is consolidating its operations.

More than a half-dozen university partners, including the University of Maryland, University of Virginia, George Washington University, Johns Hopkins University and Georgetown University, would drive research if Washington wins the award.

Eric D. Wachsman, director of the University of Maryland Energy and Research Center, would serve as principal investigator. He said he expected as many as 20 teams from around the country to contend for the funds, including a bid led by Stanford University and the University of California and another headed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But Wachsman argued that the local area's national reach could help advance findings more quickly than other regions could. "Because of the proximity to the capital, I think we have a much better chance of expanding the efficiencies across the country," he said.

The award would certainly be a boost to local companies looking to fill the growing green building niche. "There is a tremendous amount of technology in the marketplace to apply to buildings systems to make those buildings much more efficient," said Darlene Pope, managing director at Bethesda-based Consolidated Green Services. Using property management insight she acquired working at Charles E. Smith (now Vornado/Charles E. Smith), Pope advises commercial property owners on how to reduce their building's energy usage by focusing light, heating and cooling only where it is needed.

"We want to be known as the thought leaders in this particular business," she said.

The Washington team -- under the name Building Energy Solutions Today (BEST) -- also includes more than 50 major property owners that collectively control more than 1 billion square feet of real estate locally. That includes D.C. and the states of Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and West Virginia, whose governments have committed their portfolios to the effort, and commercial owners including Boston Properties, Louis Dreyfus Property Group, Duke Realty, Simon Property Group and Marriott International.

The group additionally lists the General Services Administration, which manages real estate for the country's largest property holder -- the federal government -- as a partner.

One of the group's organizers is George Vradenburg, co-founder of the Chesapeake Crescent Initiative, a nonprofit that focuses on improving the regional economy. "What is really striking in all of this is the number of states, universities, the federal presence and the more than 1 billion square feet or more of space that all stepped up," he said.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company