Washington area residents spent $1,300 a person or $3,500 a household on energy in 1980 -- a thought chilling enough to send you running to the front door to stuff a bath mat in the crack where the wind whistles through.
Although the energy crisis as we knew it a few years ago is past, these energy costs, as reported by the Metroplitan Washington Council of Governments, are soberingly high. In the city itself, they amounted to almost $900 million in 1980 -- triple what they were in 1970 despite a 25 percent decline in consumption.
The D.C. Solar Task Force, a group started in 1980 by the D.C. Energy Office but now independent, has attacked the problem of energy costs in a series of recommendations called "Thirty-Five Steps: Making Conservation and Solar Work in the District of Columbia."
With its publication, the task force beat the D.C. Energy Office to the draw in publishing a plan for cutting energy costs. The D.C. government plan, which has been through two drafts, is still being prepared for submission to Mayor Marion Barry. It will be more comprehensive than, but will also incorporate much of, the task force report, according to D.C. Energy Office chief Charles Clinton.
The task force is made up primarily of representatives of various nonprofit organizations such as the Center for Community Resources and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Two Potomac Electric Power Co. officials working with conservation projects are also members. The D.C. office was the conduit for the initial funding, but the report was prepared separately.
Some of the task force recommendations are likely to cause controversy. Not everyone will want to exempt solar equipment from zoning, height and lot set-back restrictions. But the recommendations are a useful guide to D.C. energy problems.
"The energy consumed in residential and commercial buildings is over 50 percent of total D.C. energy use," the report notes. "Clearly, if D.C. is to achieve large-scale energy savings, its building stock must be made more energy-efficient."
Starting with District government buildings, the report notes that several companies offer automated energy management systems and recommends that they be installed in government buildings where analysis shows that they would be cost-effective.
It also recommends that the city government appoint energy conservation professionals to such bodies as the Zoning Commission and the Building Codes Advisory Committee.
To encourage the installation of energy conservation devices in privately owned buildings, the task force recommends that the city government allow D.C. residents to deduct from their income or property tax bills 10 percent of the first $2,000 spent on energy conservation measures and 25 percent of the first $10,000 spent on solar systems. In addition, the value added to buildings from the addition of such equipment should be exempt from property tax increases, according to the report.
The task force also notes that, "one of the barriers to the more widespread adoption of solar energy technologies and energy conservation measures is the lack of credibility that they will perform as projected by manufacturers and installers. Therefore, consumers need a source of unbiased and credible information on currently available techniques and products," according to the report. The D.C. Energy Office could coordinate an effort to make such information available, the report suggests.
The task force also recommends that a prospective seller of a house or commercial building provide information at the time of sale about how energy-efficient the property is and that no building be sold until it passes the city's energy conservation regulations.
The report suggests that existing city financing authority might be used to make available loans or grants to low-income families for energy conservation. The task force also recommends asking Congress for approval of tax-exempt bonds to finance energy conservation.
The report makes interesting reading, but unless city officials indicate some willingness to act on its recommendations or other energy saving ideas, so what? "If all we're doing is writing reports, we're wasting our time," said Thomas Souper of the task force. "We've got to get into the buildings."