Can the U.S. Government Be as Green as Google?

Occupying approximately 500,000 buildings and sending more than 600,000 vehicles out on the road, the U.S. government is the nation’s largest energy consumer. Its energy use accounted for 1.5 percent of the country’s total in 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, and it spent $24.5 billion the previous year on fuel and electricity.

With government spending at the forefront of the political discussion in Washington, energy consumption would seen a natural place to begin cutting. Two senators — New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Ohio Republican Rob Portman — introduced just such a plan to the Senate floor on Thursday, aimed at forcing federal agencies to invest in energy-saving software and other technologies to manage energy use in federal buildings and in big data centers. The plan, known as the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, was created to meet President Obama’s 2009 demand to cut federal emissions 28 percent by 2020.

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But given the unwieldy and bureaucratic nature of government, it may take a great deal of time to implement the changes and it may be too great a leap for the government to implement energy-saving measures to the extent that Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) have. But the federal government may be able to adopt some similar measures.  Along with Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), these tech giants have redesigned their data centers to make them more energy efficient, installing thermostats and energy-monitoring software that can slow systems down during off-peak hours, as Bloomberg reported. This is a route that federal government data centers can take as well…

Robert Mosher, director of government relations at Alliance to Save Energy, told the publication that the government is likely adopt measures similar to Google’s and Apple’s if the bill passes. The proposed bill is also likely to give a boost to the fast-growing energy-efficiency industry; citing a study conducted by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Mosher said that the legislation would create 93,000 jobs by 2020, a quality that has given it bipartisan support.

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The support of the private sector is especially noteworthy; the National Association of Manufacturers, no friends of the Obama administration, has given its backing, and AT&T (NYSE:T), General Electric (NYSE:GE), and dozens of other companies have signed on.

Even more appealing to companies is the bill’s provision to provide financing for owners of commercial and residential buildings to buy technologies that decrease their energy consumption. Unlike many other environmental proposals — like auto emissions — it contains no penalties that do not meet the set targets.

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