The New Buildings Institute occupies a small office in White Salmon, but it is starting to play a large role in nationwide efforts to conserve energy.
A couple weeks ago, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded a $150,000 grant to the New Buildings Institute, which is located in what used to be the White Salmon Community Library building at 142 E. Jewett.
"The big thing about this particular grant is that the White House National Energy Reporting Committee reviewed all the grants, and singled this one out as fitting with President Bush's energy plan for the nation," said Jeff Johnson, executive director. "It's really big. It's our first from the EPA."
The EPA grant, which runs through June 2002, will go to fund a study of the energy-efficiency of newly-constructed commercial buildings, to help determine if new buildings actually are as efficient as their intended design.
As part of the study, Columbia High School and Henkle Middle School will gain information showing how the school buildings rank in terms of other schools across the country. That information can then be used to target ways to save money through energy savings.
Johnson said he wants to look at local buildings in order to bring a local benefit.
"In about a month, we'll apply benchmarks to the high school and middle school, running information such as how much the schools pay for their utility bills, number of students, the size of the school, etc.," Johnson explained. "The goal is to give information to Dale (Palmer, the superintendent) and the School Board, to make them aware of which energy projects at the school would be good for the school and save them money."
Johnson said the review -- which will be provided at no cost to the school -- will give the school district a vital point of information as to where to make improvements. It is also expected to show how much energy Columbia High School saved by installing insulation during the high school roofing project a couple years ago.
"If someone is going to come up with the dollars for an energy study, that is a real relief," said Nancy Richardson of the school district's administrative office. "That's exciting."
Richardson added that the cost to perform an energy audit for the White Salmon schools had been estimated at $40,000.
Johnson pointed out that EPA is known in the energy arena for its "Energy Star" promotion campaign for energy-efficient lights, appliances, and other items.
"The EPA has been trying to apply Energy Star to commercial buildings, that's one specialty they needed help with," Johnson explained. "This grant is part of getting them that help."
The Energy Star rating system, which is used as the benchmark, ranks energy performance on a 1-100 scale. A score of 50 signifies energy efficiency that is better than 50 percent of similar buildings. Data from existing energy utility bills is used to highlight the difference between the design's intent and actual, as-built energy efficiency in buildings.
Johnson has 18 years of direct experience in the field since graduating from Sonoma State University, where his classwork focused on environmental studies and planning, with an energy emphasis. He has worked in the public and the private sector, including stints with the California Energy Commission and, most recently, for Battelle, which operated the national laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy in Hanford.
Johnson came to White Salmon three years ago, and at first worked out of his home. The business kept growing, so the New Buildings Institute, a non-profit endeavor, opened its downtown office in April.
The business employs four full-time and one part-time employee.
The objective of the business is simple.
"Making buildings energy-efficient is our goal," said Maggie Johnson, who created and maintains the web site for the business and is the wife of Jeff Johnson. "We work to make buildings better. As small as we are, we do a lot of neat stuff."
One successful project already completed is the "Advanced Lighting Guidelines," which was released in early June. The website has recorded between 300-400 visitors a day since it was made available for downloading.
With funding through the new EPA grant, the New Buildings Institute is hoping it can help state, local, and private sector programs benefit by knowing the actual, rather than the perceived, differences between the designed intent and the actual energy performance in commercial buildings.
"It's something that needs to be done," Maggie Johnson explained. "Builders often think their building is going to be really comfortable, and then things don't function as designed. It happens all the time."