San Diego demonstrates solutions to costly energy prices

Ridgehaven "green building " and liquefied natural gas production serve as examples of energy and resource efficiency.

provided by City of San Diego Environmental Services


kyrocketing energy costs; businesses closing due to inflated energy prices; cities threatened with brownouts. These are just some of the realities San Diego has faced during the past few months as the result of deregulated energy sources. While the public's reaction demanded immediate solutions, the City of San Diego's Environmental Services Department (ESD) offers solutions to cutting energy expenses through its functioning Ridgehaven "Green Building" Demonstration Project and utilization of liquefied natural gas as an alternative fuel source.

"As the Environmental Services Department, we are tasked with designing proactive efforts that support a sustainable future for the environment," said Richard L. Hays, director of the Environmental Services Department. "In the early 1990s, when our department changed names from Waste Management to Environmental Services and moved to another facility, the Mayor, City Council and Environmental Services realized the need to live up to our new name and practice what we preach by creating an office building that would be the most environmentally sound and energy efficient building in the City of San Diego."

Today, that vision has evolved into the Ridgehaven "Green Building" Demonstration Project, which is occupied by the City's Environmental Services Department. Completed in 1996, the building's retrofit incorporates state of the art lighting, water source heat pumps, recyclable construction materials and reused items that all contribute to the reduction of energy and water consumption and ultimately reduced utility prices. Also, the landscape surrounding the building utilizes water conservation techniques, drought-tolerant plants, and recycled products to help reduce costs and energy use.

As a result, Ridgehaven is one of the lowest commercial energy users in San Diego County today and saves approximately $90,000 annually in energy costs. This success has earned this energy-efficient building national recognition, and in 1998 was the first building in the United States to receive the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy's prestigious Energy Star Label.

"The Ridgehaven Green Building is truly demonstrating that designing an energy-efficient building is possible," said Hays. "We believe in the Green Building design and we will offer assistance to existing businesses and contractors to help retrofit a building that ultimately will save energy and money."

Past studies that determine saving also project future savings. During the next 10 years, Ridgehaven will prevent an estimated 3,540 tons, of carbon dioxide, 10 tons of sulfur dioxide, and nine tons of nitrogen oxides from being released into the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases directly contribute to three major environmental problems: acid rain, smog, and global climate change.

"Energy is a resource and without it our lives would radically change," said Hays. "We are just the preachers of conservation, but it is up to everyone to embrace methods that reduce over use of our natural resources, whether it is simply turning off the lights or using an alternative fuel source."


"Free" gas

According to national air quality studies, San Diego's leading cause of air pollution is automobiles. Clean fuel technology is one way to decrease air pollution. Environmental Services has started to implement the use of liquefied natural gas instead of diesel fuel for the refuse collection trucks. Additionally, Environmental Services will capture methane gas -- produced from trash at landfills and convert it into liquefied natural gas that will fuel the City operated refuse collection trucks. "This will be one of the city's most resource-efficient programs and it will be the first time any city in the country has completed this process," said Hays. "It really gives new definition to the trash we throw out."

"Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is a cleaner burning fuel that emits less pollution into our air stream," said Hays. "By converting our refuse packers to function on liquefied natural gas, it is the equivalent to reducing the air pollution produced by 100 vehicles."

The city currently has equipped more than 50 refuse collection vehicles to function on a dual fuel system. The refuse collection trucks' starter is ignited by diesel fuel and immediately converted to function on LNG.

The City Operations Station, scheduled for completion in January 2001, will serve as an LNG fueling and maintenance station for refuse packers. It will also be available for use by the general public.

For more information on the Ridgehaven Green Building Demonstration Project or the Liquefied Natural Gas Project, please call the Environmental Services Department at (858) 492-5009.